Vail Daily letter: Beyond Hidden Gems
Vail, CO Colorado
On Sept. 29, 1994, one hour before the U.S. Senate was to adopt the U.N. Treaty on Biodiversity, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson went to the floor with a 300-plus page copy of Chapter 10 of the U.N. Global Biodiversity Assessment, called the Wild Lands Project, plus a 4-by-6-foot poster.
The poster was a map of our lower 48 states showing wilderness areas interconnected by thousands of land corridors colored in red. The corridors were surrounded by buffer zones in yellow. The limited green patches were human occupation zones. Several senators withdrew the scheduled cloture vote on the treaty, and the vote on that U.N. treaty was never taken. (You can find this information on http://www.takingliberty.us, including the map and excellent facts on “wilderness” designations.)
As candidate for Eagle County commissioner, 3rd District, I absolutely oppose Hidden Gems and any further wilderness designations to our public lands. I love our wilderness lands in Colorado and in the other states I have visited throughout my fly-fishing adventures across the United States.
My opposition to Hidden Gems is that Eagle, Summit, Gunnison and Pitkin county residents do not need a well-funded, well-planned advocacy group telling us what we need, why we need it and how much better our lives will be when they decide how much legislation and expanded limitations are best for us. We don’t need a wilderness advocacy movement agenda to form our decisions about the land in our backyards. These lands already belong to us as Americans, and we know how to take care of our property and our wilderness areas. Just ask the generations of ranchers and landowners.
As your county commissioner, I will not support or deny any programs, regulations or proposed legislation affecting the citizens of Eagle County without fully researching both sides and listening to all sides of the issue.
Hidden Gems is no exception. Over the last four days, I have researched the background, financing and legislation proposed by wilderness advocacy groups across this country and learned a great deal about the Hidden Gems proposal.
This proposal claims it is harmless with the promise the legislation will keep the federal land in our county pristine and untrammeled. The White River National Forest is 2,250,000 acres, with 750,000 already designated as wilderness. Hidden Gems is proposing wilderness designation to a couple of hundred thousand acres more in our backyard. The wilderness advocacy movement is hard at work across America, appearing to be just local groups at work preserving federal lands. Hidden Gems isn’t just a hometown wilderness group. It is a division of a national campaign using the law to add, define and control use of federal land.
Currently, there are approximately 650 million acres of federal land in the United States. There is another 40 million acres held in land trusts. The wilderness advocates are bringing pressure on legislators and leveraging environmental fears to their advantage to place more and more land under local, state and federal governmental control.
Eagle County voters approved “open space,” agreeing to an addition to our property taxes earmarked as the Open Space Fund. Eagle County commissioners can, with committee approval, purchase private property or conservation easements meeting their current criteria.
Currently, Colorado has 8,350,005 acres of Bureau of Land Management lands and 14,498,801 acres of national forests. The last wilderness areas designated in Colorado were in the Omnibus Law signed by President Obama in March 2009: Dominguez Canyon Wilderness and 249,339 acres in the Rocky Mountain National Park.
Following the Omnibus Law, Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., introduced legislation on Oct. 22 to protect more than 61,000 acres of public land in southwest Colorado, including 33,000 acres as wilderness. This addition to the 480,000-acre San Juan National Forest wilderness will provide protection to critical landscape linkages or corridors.
Many of these wilderness campaigns are sponsored by The Pew Institute, receiving its start from the Tides Center, a U.S. nonprofit organization that provides fiscal sponsorship for progressive groups including the Apollo Alliance, which according to Harry Reid, was credited with helping create the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (also known as the stimulus bill).
The Pew website, http://www.leave
itwild.org, is very informative. In 2009, their wilderness campaigns garnered legislation adding 2,315,000 acres of designated wilderness. Currently, the Pew wilderness campaigns have advocacy groups across the U.S. seeking to work within the U.S. congressional framework to legislate an additional 12,602,000 acres as wilderness and 104 river miles as wild and scenic. Hidden Gems is listed as one of their campaigns on this website.
In Colorado, these are their wilderness campaigns, either completed or in progress:
• Browns Canyon: 20,000 acres of the Pike-San Isabel National Forest. Browns Canyon is one of the busiest stretches of the Arkansas River.
• San Juan Mountains: This proposal seeks to protect over 50,000 acres of forest and low-elevation lands in San Miguel and Ouray counties.
• Rocky Mountain National Park: 249,339 acres of the park’s total 265,770 acres was designated as wilderness area March 30, 2009.
• Hidden Gems: This proposal would designate approximately 342,000 acres in the White River National Forest (the nation’s most visited) and nearby Bureau of Land Management lands in western Colorado, expanding existing wilderness areas and adding several new areas. Whereas most Colorado wilderness is high-elevation, the Hidden Gems proposal contains mid-elevation lands.
My research also found many advocacy groups wanting to create wilderness legislation. These are a few that have been introduced in the 111th Congress this year:
Arizona, introduced May 18: Rio Grande del Norte National Conservation Area shall consist of approximately 235,980 acres of public land.
North Dakota, introduced May 5: approximately 27,500 acres, which shall be known as the Indian Creek Wilderness; approximately 16,007 acres, which shall be known as the Red Shirt Wilderness; approximately 4,518 acres, which shall be known as the Chalk Hills Wilderness.
Idaho, introduced May 4: 110,370 acres, which shall be known as the Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness; 90,888 acres, which shall be known as the White Clouds Wilderness; 131,670 acres, which shall be known as the Jerry Peak Wilderness.
There are many more. You can learn about other wilderness bills introduced to Congress on http://www.govtrack.us. In the search block, type in “wilderness,” and scroll down.
On Friday, the news reported and I confirmed online that President Obama is considering locking up 13 million acres of federal land, which supports a variety of commercial activities. Commercial activities create jobs and tax revenue for the states. However, President Obama, using the Antiquities Act of 1906, can turn federal land into national monuments. That would effectively lock up the land from any kind of private use or development. So does Hidden Gems.
I will update my website, http://www.electclaudia.com, as I learn more about Hidden Gems.
There is a Hidden Gems town meeting at Battle Mountain High School in Edwards on Thursday at 5 p.m. with Jared Polis. The Eagle County residents who oppose Hidden Gems and have tried to expose the proposal have been outnumbered and certainly outfinanced. If you are as concerned as I am about this proposal, you must show up and speak up.
Don’t wait any longer for your voice to be heard. The consequences are too great and the cost to our community is too high. Join me at Battle Mountain High on Thursday!
Claudia Alexander, candidate for Eagle County commissioner