Vail Daily letter: Enough already with wilderness |

Vail Daily letter: Enough already with wilderness

Chas Bernhardt
Vail, CO, Colorado

The most disturbing occurrence happened within the first five minutes of the program. U.S. Rep. Jared Polis began the meeting, but had to be reminded by an audience member that this is a FEDERAL meeting and should begin with the Pledge of Allegiance.

The audience stood ready, but there was no American flag to be found in the Battle Mountain High School auditorium.

Finally, one of the men from the audience had on a shirt, with an American flag decal, and that was used as the symbol.

The meeting was, for the most part, very well run and the audience polite. Speakers were chosen by names out of a basket, and a panel of “authoritative voices” answered questions.

The panel was made up of spokesmen from Hidden Gems, the White River National Forest Alliance, U.S. Forest Service, Roaring Fork Mountain Biking Club, the BLM, and the town of Vail fire chief.

The challenges of the proposal include that the wilderness land is the strictest designation that can be placed upon acreage by the federal government.

It permanently closes access to all non-operating mineral rights, timber and industrial development, mechanized uses including, bicycles, wheelchairs, chainsaws and of course vehicles, boats and aircraft.

If there were a national defense need for some industrial use of that land, it cannot be used. Even Vail Mt. Rescue is required to ask permission to use motorized vehicles during a search to find lost individuals. It was unfortunate that no one from the High Altitude Army Aviation Training Site (HAATS), located at the Eagle County Regional Airport, was present on the expert panel to answer questions pertaining to how these additional Wilderness area designations may curtail the training flight paths used during the training exercises by the military.

Sixty-three percent of the White River National Forest is already roadless (33.34 percent wilderness designation), so why take more from “The Land of Many Uses” motto of the U.S. Forest Service? “Clean air, clean water” are the cries of the proponents.

The challenge here is that the U.S. Forest Service representative said, “The forests are not healthy.”

By putting them into a wilderness designation, there can be no health management.

So when a fire does occur, it cannot be touched unless houses or persons are in imminent danger and permission is granted. After a fire, the water will be severely compromised for decades. Is it worth the risk?

The Forest Service professionals recommend 82,000 acres for wilderness designation, a far cry from the 342,000 acres the Hidden Gems proponents now want, reduced from the 450,000 acres they originally proposed.

Finances were brought up during the discussions.

Most of the opponents of the Hidden Gems proposal had little or no funding or paid staff, while the Hidden Gems representative only said, “We have as much funding as will be required.”

In today’s political climate, does that mean “enough money to buy the votes we need?”

The Hidden Gems program is sponsored by the Pew Institute and the Tides Center. So yes, it appears that they have a bottomless well of resources.

Chas Bernhardt

Editor’s note: HAATS would not be affected by the Hidden Gems proposal.

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