Congresswoman Diana DeGette, D-Denver, will visit Cortez for the first time Monday to discuss her proposed Colorado Wilderness Act of 2019.
DeGette will host a community forum from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Aug. 26 at Cortez City Hall 123 E. Roger Smith Ave.
Local support for the bill – which includes designating new wilderness areas in Montezuma, Dolores and San Miguel Counties – is mixed.
The Montezuma County commission has been lobbying against it, and the Cortez City Council voted 4-3 to support it.
At the forum, updates on the bill will be provided and questions will be taken from the audience.
“If you’re available, and in the area, I hope you will join us for this event,” says DeGette in a news release. “Please feel free to pass this information along to any of your family and friends who may be interested in attending as well.”
A big crowd is expected, and seating will be on a first-come, first-serve basis because space is limited.
The bill seeks to designate 740,000 acres in 31 areas as wilderness areas, which include additional land protection.
The areas in Montezuma County proposed for wilderness in the bill are the Bureau of Land Management wilderness study areas of Weber Mountain, Menefee Mountain and Cross Canyon. In Dolores County the bill proposes to make the Snaggletooth stretch of the lower Dolores River Canyon a wilderness area.
Cahone Canyon, and Squaw and Papoose Canyon are the other wilderness study areas within the county but are not part of the bill.
DeGette has introduced the Colorado Wilderness Act in every Congress since 1999. But this is the first time that DeGette has received assurances from congressional leaders that her bill will receive a hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee, which it has never received before and is a critical first step in moving the bill forward.
“This bill was designed to protect some our state’s most unique areas,” DeGette said, “from the desert slopes of the Bookcliffs, to the highest peaks of the San Juan Mountains.”
Montezuma County has been urging Republican Congressman Scott Tipton to sponsor a bill that would drop the wilderness study area designations in the county.
In July, Tipton’s proposed the Colorado Recreation Enhancement and Conservation Act. In addition to more land protections in the San Juan Mountains, it also seeks to release wilderness study areas in Montezuma County, including Weber Mountain, Menefee Mountain, Cahone Canyon, Cross Canyon, and Squaw and Papoose Canyon (Colorado portion only).
On July 10, Montezuma County Commissioner Keenan Ertel testified against the proposed Colorado Wilderness Act of 2019 to the Congressional Natural Resources subcommittee in Washington, D.C.
Ertel expressed concerns that additional protections of wilderness areas present management challenges, and limit opportunity for adding recreation trails.
“The county is transitioning from an oil- and gas-based economy to a sustainable and environmentally friendly tourism- and recreation-based economy,” he said.
In response to county commission criticism that DeGette had not consulted the county regarding her local wilderness area plans, she agreed to visit Cortez to discuss the bill and wilderness issues.
On the Cortez City Council, Mayor Karen Sheek and council members Mike Lavey, Jill Carlson and Ty Keel voted for sending a letter of support for DeGette’s bill, and council members Sue Betts, Gary Noyes and Orly Lucero voted against it.