Public lands bill pinched by economy

With Congress scheduled to return for a lame-duck session beginning this week, the top priority will clearly be the economy. A new stimulus package will be on the agenda, along with extending unemployment benefits. A bailout bill for the Big Three auto makers may also come up, although congressional leaders said late last week they didn’t appear to have enough votes to get such a bill passed.

Also, a handful of lawmakers, Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar among them, are still hoping Congress will find time to vote on an omnibus public-lands package.

We would like to see the measure voted on as well. Among other things, the package contains legislation to designate Dominguez and Escalante Canyons on the Gunnison River, along with surrounding lands, as a national conservation area that would include the Dominguez Canyons Wilderness Area.

People in three Western Slope counties, along with ranchers, environmentalists and others, have worked with congressional leaders and the Bureau of Land Management to win support for the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area.

Additionally, the omnibus bill would give formal congressional authorization to the National Landscape Conservation System, providing authority and, it is hoped, additional money for the BLM to care for places such as McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area west of Fruita and the Canyons of the Ancients in the Four Corners area.

The measure will not — as one lands rights group claimed last week — “lock you out of” 26 million acres of BLM lands. The lands in question have already been set aside for special protection by presidential proclamations and in most places, such as McInnis Canyons, a multitude of public uses are allowed.

The omnibus bill also contains provisions for new wilderness acreage in Rocky Mountain National Park and other public lands designation in Colorado, as well as throughout the West. It has broad bipartisan support.

But, at a time when the economy is what’s first and foremost on everyone’s mind, it will be no surprise if Congress finds little time for a public lands bill just now.

If that is the case, we hope Sen. Salazar and others will push just as hard in the new Congress
beginning in January for the important public-lands measures in this bill.


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