Today, U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (CO-1) announced the introduction of the Colorado Wilderness Act of 2013, which proposes a balanced approach to protect 31 wilderness areas and two potential wilderness areas, totaling approximately 750,000 acres, across the state.
"As a fourth-generation Coloradoan, I know firsthand that Colorado's beautiful lands are one of our state's greatest resources," said DeGette. "These special lands not only provide clean air, clean water and critical wildlife habitat, they help drive tourism as our state's number one economic engine. It is critically important we protect these remaining wild areas so that future generations have access to the same benefits we enjoy today. That is why I am so pleased that after traveling across the state for many years to engage the public and relevant stakeholders, this proposal has received great support as a way to secure the lands that are so important to so many Coloradoans."
Over the past several years, population growth and corresponding demands have placed increasing pressure on our public lands and resources. For example, 13.6% of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land in Colorado is leased for oil and gas activities, while 2.6% is protected wilderness. The Colorado Wilderness Act seeks to balance these demands while keeping an eye on our natural heritage and preserving some of the most ecologically rich areas in our state.
The bill recognizes the need for balanced use of our public lands, and as such, maintains existing grazing, oil and gas, and mineral rights. The areas proposed for wilderness designation are primarily BLM mid-elevation lands and lower-lying canyons. Many of these low-lying areas are underrepresented in our National Wilderness Preservation System, making their inclusion in the Act that much more critical.
"The 2013 Conservation in the West Poll by Colorado College found very strong support for premier public lands as being an essential part of the state's economy and necessary to attract high quality jobs and employers; three-fourths or more of Republicans, Independents and Democrats alike surveyed register such support showing land protection is not a partisan issue," said Prof. Walter Hecox, the Colorado College State of the Rockies Project faculty director who joined the Congresswoman in a press conference today to expand on these findings.
"Colorado is world renowned for its beauty and wilderness. In poll after poll Coloradans have expressed support for protecting our public lands and understand the link between protected lands and our economic prosperity," said Conservation Colorado Executive Director Pete Maysmith. "There are thousands of acres of unique public lands which have awaited congressional action for too long. We applaud Congresswoman DeGette for championing these areas deserving permanent protection and appreciate her leadership and vision for conserving our remaining wilderness quality lands."
Stacie Gilmore, Executive Director of Environmental Learning for Kids, said of the proposal, "Congresswoman DeGette's protection of wilderness areas and open space is invaluable to the communities of color like those that Environmental Learning for Kids serves. We need more protection of these areas to make sure that people who have traditionally not had access to the beautiful Colorado outdoors will have places to go to watch wildlife, to fish, to camp and to just enjoy the solitude of nature. They are an invaluable resource and we appreciate the Congresswoman's initiative to make sure that all people of Colorado are able to become stewards of our natural resources."
"I have been integrating public comments on this legislation for 14 years and I will continue to do so until we pass it. Coloradoans understand the importance of protecting these special places and preserving our natural heritage," concluded DeGette. "The local outdoor industry, tourism, our wildlife and our very quality of life depend on protecting these remaining wild lands."