Gypsum concerned about Hidden Gems
Vail, CO Colorado
Gypsum town staff and council members voiced concerns about the Hidden Gems proposal in a recent work session with two representatives of the campaign.
Gypsum officials had previously discussed the possibility of approving a formal resolution against the proposal.
Among the town’s concerns are possible limits to its ability to fight wildfires and handle threats to its watershed. Other concerns included the projected timeline for the proposal becoming a bill and possible effects to the High Altitude Army Aviation Training facility.
Steve Smith, assistant regional director for The Wilderness Society, and Susie Kincade, the Eagle County coordinator for Hidden Gems Wilderness Camp, said the Army’s high-altitude operations will not be affected. Referring to the whole proposal, Smith said, “Talk is cheap until the details are published, but I think we’re really close on that.”
At the end of the session, both Smith and Kincade promised to come back to the town with more information and recommend that U.S. Rep. Jared Polis meet with Gypsum officials.
Smith said he would like to see the proposal make it to Washington, D.C., within the next year. Gypsum Mayor Steve Carver and Town Manager Jeff Shroll said they’re worried that won’t leave enough time to ensure Gypsum gets a fair deal.
“Who is going to protect little ol’ Gypsum once this goes to Washington as a bill and they start messing with it?” Shroll said, stressing that the remaining months of 2010 ire not enough time for him to craft a plan for the town’s needs.
Smith and Kincade assured them that someone would be watching any changes to the proposal through the entire process.
The main area of interest for Gypsum in the wilderness proposal is Red Table Mountain. In total, the Hidden Gems proposal includes 342,000 acres around Colorado to possibly set aside as wilderness areas. The land is primarily located in Pitkin, Eagle, Gunnison and Summit counties. Motorized travel and mechanized travel, such as mountain bikes, are banned in wilderness, as is logging, new mining and gas and oil drilling except where leases exist.
Red Table is south of Gypsum and holds a vast majority of the town’s watershed, including LEDE Reservoir. There, the town is looking to spend about $800,000 to $900,000 on a waterline project this summer, Shroll said.
Shroll said Red Table Mountain is relatively inaccessible due to private land and cliffs surrounding it. “There’s a lot of areas I agree with, but this is one I scratch my head at because it’s completely buffered,” he said.
He went on to say that making it wilderness to protect it would be redundant and hinder the ability to manage it in such a case as a fire.
Kincade urged Shroll to consider how access could change there over the long term if it was not officially protected.
“You’ve already got dirt bikers making bandit trails in that area,” she said. Shroll said he doubted that was true and McMichael questioned the government’s ability to enforce a ban on motorized vehicles.
Shroll’s biggest worry was fire-prevention.
Firefighting in wilderness areas must be done with hand tools unless other means are authorized through a chain of command. That process can take days. And though legislation allows efforts to manage fuel loads in wilderness, Gypsum’s attorney, Bob Cole, said he “was not aware of the Forest Service having any prescribed burns in wilderness areas.”
“When that watershed goes away we won’t have water for 6,000 residents,” McMichael said of the devastation that could be caused by a wildfire.
Carver reiterated the points made in the discussion.
“You’re definitely leaving here knowing the town’s concerns and those will not change,” Carver said.
Kincade stressed that Gypsum’s concerns and goals are actually very similar to the wilderness campaign’s.
“The work session was good,” she said after the meeting. “We identified important steps for us to work together on. As long as everyone’s still at the table we can work through this.”