U.S. House approves largest Colorado wilderness bill in 40 years. But not everyone is happy. | VailDaily.com

U.S. House approves largest Colorado wilderness bill in 40 years. But not everyone is happy.

Jason Blevins, Colorado Sun
A pair of wild horses graze on a hill at Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Range on Aug. 28, 2018 in Grand Junction. (Seth McConnell, Special to the Colorado Sun)

Twentieth time’s a charm for U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette. 

More than 20 years after the Denver Democrat first proposed a wilderness bill to protect low-lying, yet untrammeled, Colorado landscapes, DeGette’s bill was approved by the U.S. House on Wednesday. The Protecting America’s Wilderness Act — setting aside 660,000 acres in 36 areas in Colorado, 478,500 acres in California and 131,900 acres in Washington state as wilderness — is the largest wilderness package the House has approved in a decade and the largest for Colorado since the Colorado Wilderness Act of 1980 created more than 2 million acres of wilderness. 

DeGette took on the wilderness proposal — crafted by advocates and called the Citizens Wilderness Plan — in 1999. She’s tinkered here and there, pulling out acreage north of Gypsum’s High Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site to accommodate helicopter work and adding four parcels and 60,000 acres late last year. But the bill has remained largely the same over the congresswoman’s two-decade push, with a focus on Bureau of Land Management wilderness study projects in low-lying and mid-mountain river canyons and desert.

The Grand Valley economy is growing despite a slowdown in the region’s dominant oil and gas industry. Sales tax collections in Mesa County topped $38.5 million in 2019, up from $36.1 million in 2018. The county’s unemployment rate is dropping and the number of jobs is increasing even as oil and gas drilling contracts and major energy employers, like Halliburton, lay off workers

“The economy is really turning around as we become a more diversified, sustainable, recreation-based economy,” Shrader said. “As the diversification continues, we will see poverty drop, unemployment drop, graduation rates go up, suicide rates go down and community health go up. It’s been an honor to be a part of this.”

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