Protecting Hermosa Creek

The Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act (H.R. 1839) was introduced into the House by Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.). after two years of work by a local group of citizens and industry in the Durango area. The bill would designate 70,000 acres as a special management area and about 37,000 acres as wilderness. The bill allows all current uses for the land to continue including grazing, hunting, fishing, back packing and snowmobiling.



“It’s a no-brainer,” said Capt. Bruce Gordon, piloting his small, six-seat, single-prop Cessna airplane over the Hermosa Creek Watershed just northwest of Durango.

“You’re right. It’s a no-brainer,” Wilderness Society representative Jeff Widen said through his headphones while sitting in the far back of the plane.

It’s a no-brainer that the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act (H.R. 1839) should pass out of committee and on to the full House of Representatives of the United States.

It may never happen, though.

The Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act is a bipartisan bill introduced by Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.) in the House and U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, both Colorado Democrats. The bill would protect approximately 108,000 acres of the Hermosa Creek watershed north of Durango. It would designate 70,000 acres as a special management area and about 37,000 acres as wilderness.

The bill allows all current uses for the land to continue, including hunting, fishing, backpacking, and snowmobiling.

After a two-year process of extensive research and negotiations, the Hermosa Creek Workgroup, composed of area residents, developed a proposal that is the basis for the legislation.

At a House Committee on Natural Resources hearing in Washington, D.C., on March 6, Scott Fetchenhier, county commissioner for San Juan County, said, “The Hermosa Creek bill has support from ranchers, mountain bikers, environmentalists, snowmobilers — everybody in the community. It was a great team effort.” 

Supporters of the bill include the Durango City Council, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, the Southwestern Water Conservation District, more than 100 business leaders in San Juan and La Plata counties, the Colorado Snowmobile Association, Colorado Off Road Coalition and the Durango office of The Wilderness Society.

“La Plata County is really pleased with the legislation,” said Gwen Lachelt, a commissioner for La Plata County. “It’s community-owned and developed legislation. Wilderness is great for our economy, and we are pleased with the consensus approach of this bill.”

Widen, who has been working on conservation issues for years in the Four Corners area, said it’s the first time he can remember that the snowmobilers and ATV riders have agreed with ranchers, conservationists and others on a designation such as this.

“We’ve reached an amazing consensus from a diverse group of users on both sides of the aisle. We are all in agreement locally that we need to protect the Hermosa Creek watershed and the water that runs through it.”

It’s a no-brainer.

But it may not happen, even with the clout of Tipton on the House Natural Resources Committee.

That’s because committee chairman, Rep. Doc Hastings from Washington, may never pass the bill through his committee to the full House. It may never see the light of day — at least not this year.

Although Hastings recently announced he will step down at the end of this, his seventh term, he has voted time and time again against anything that smacks of “wilderness.”

According to Seattle Times reporter Kyung M. Song, “Year after year, Rep. Doc Hastings has opposed nearly every major bill considered important by environmental groups.

“The Pasco Republican has voted no to curbing greenhouse-gas pollutants, no to new federal wilderness and conservation areas, and no to spending more money to upgrade wastewater-treatment plants and make schools more energy-efficient.”

“To be fair,” Song reported, “Hastings is hardly alone: In 2009, he was one of 82 House Republicans — or nearly half the party’s total in the chamber — who received a grade of zero in the annual environmental scorecard issued by the League of Conservation Voters. Hastings’ lifetime score is 2 of a possible 100.”

Yet, even the oil and gas industry has no problem with the Hermosa Creek Watershed bill. That’s probably because the industry has no oil or gas leases in the drainage. There are two small hard-rock-mining claims in the area, one at the top of the drainage and one at the bottom. Because of a consensus from the Hermosa Creek watershed working group, those two mining operations were left outside the designation and will not be affected.

Neither will grazing, nor snowmobiling, nor off-road use.

It’s a no-brainer.

At the congressional committee hearing in March, Durango rancher and small business owner Ed Zink said all of the stakeholders in the process will benefit from the legislation.

“Everyone agrees about protecting the water,” he said. “The water has many valuable recreation benefits as well as irrigation and domestic uses.”

Capt. Gordon is the president and CEO of EcoFlight, whose mission is to “educate and advocate for the protection of remaining wildlands and wildlife habitat through the use of small aircraft. The aerial perspective and our educational programs encourage an environmental stewardship ethic among citizens of all ages.”

It’s a no-brainer.


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