The House Committee on Natural Resources voted this week to pass the Colorado Wilderness Act, which now awaits full consideration in the House of Representatives.
In May, Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., introduced the Colorado Wilderness Act of 2019. This legislation is intended to permanently protect more than 600,000 acres of wilderness in 32 areas across Colorado, expanding ecological diversity in those areas while including the lower elevation canyonlands in the Arkansas and Dolores river areas. DeGette said in a news release that passage of the bill will “help grow Colorado’s thriving tourism economy, and our multi-billion dollar outdoor recreation industry.”
“Providing these majestic landscapes the permanent protection they deserve will ensure they remain available for many years to come,” DeGette said. “The only thing more amazing than the land this bill will protect is the support we’ve received along the way.”
The bill would not only protect a variety of plants and wildlife, according to the release, it would also preserve areas that Coloradans use for a range of outdoor activities, such as hiking, fishing and kayaking.
The bill has received support from a number of stakeholders who have prioritized the conservation of Colorado’s canyonlands.
Mark Pearson, executive director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance, applauded Wednesday’s passage of the bill through committee.
“The BLM (Bureau of Land Management) first proposed these areas be protected as wilderness almost 40 years ago, and it’s time Congress acted,” Pearson said in a statement.
Along with the environmental benefits of the legislation, Colorado’s economy would benefit, as well. According to the Colorado Office of Economic Development, Colorado’s outdoor recreation industry generates $28 billion in consumer spending and pays $9.7 billion in wages and salaries to outdoor recreation employees.
The protected areas within the bill include lands within Rep. Scott Tipton’s, R-Colo., 3rd Congressional District, but he has yet to lend support for the legislation because “any changes to federal management of public lands must be done ... with broad community support,” he said in a statement.
While DeGette did consult with Tipton’s office about the components of the bill, Tipton said he did not think the bill incorporated the necessary adjustments to receive community support, and without his support of the bill, passage in the Senate is unlikely.
Ayelet Sheffey is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald.