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Vail Daily letter: Gems bid makes sense

Vail Daily
Vail, CO Colorado

I have been living in this wonderful part of the world for a little longer than five years. There are countless reasons why I love to live here, and one of them is the wildness and natural wonder that surround me.

I am a supporter of the Hidden Gems wilderness campaign. My belief is that every single person in this great state of Colorado benefits greatly from having wilderness, and these proposal areas deserve wilderness protection. I feel extremely lucky to be in the position to support a new addition of land that fits the characteristics of wilderness.

This is our chance to do something not only beneficial to the environment, of which we are an intrinsic part, but also to leave a sort of legacy behind for future generations. It is too easy to live in the now and forget that man most definitely leaves a mark wherever he has been, and that mark is never a benefit for the land or for the animals that reside and rely on it.

As the population of our species grows exponentially, more and more people are seeking refuge in our remaining wild areas, and this is making it a harder and more desperate time for native species to continue as they have for centuries before the arrival of civilization to the area. We are pushing them out and letting invasive species take advantage of their reeling weakness.

Unfortunately, there are many myths surrounding wilderness designation. There are those who believe making a new wilderness is a means to discriminate against groups of individuals. The belief is that this bill would be closing many miles of trails by making them off limits for those with the preference for mechanized means of recreation.

This could not be further from the truth. More than 1,400 miles of roads would remain open to motorized use, and 2,233 would remain open to mountain bikes in the entire White River National Forest.

Stating that wilderness areas would bottleneck motorized use elsewhere is not only inaccurate (more than 500,000 acres would remain available for motorized use in Eagle County alone, and no mountain-bike trails would be closed in Eagle County), it is also not a good reason to fail to protect the Hidden Gems from motorized use, resource extraction and development.

These areas deserve nothing less than wilderness designation. The fact is, much of the proposed areas are already roadless. This is what makes them great candidates for wilderness.

Some also believe this new designation would discriminate against the disabled who must rely on mechanical means for movement. This is simply not true. Wilderness designation would not affect access to the Gems by older people and the disabled because the proposal is not closing the roads that people currently use to access them.

Furthermore, wheelchairs and other manual devices designed for those with disabilities are explicitly allowed in wilderness, and those with mobility impairments also may enter wilderness by horseback.

The statement also has been made that the designation of wilderness would hamper the management of the natural resources found within our forests.

The Hidden Gems proposal does not end logging or other resource extraction everywhere in the White River National Forest but prevents it from happening in the last best places we have left, areas that are critical for wildlife habitat, wildlife migration routes and clean watersheds.

Reduction of motorized travel within these areas would be a great blessing, enabling the recovery of a natural primitive state.

I do not own an ATV or snowmobile but have many friends who do. I find many to be totally misinformed on the issues surrounding wilderness designation. I try to balance this, but it really requires a bit of initiative

on their part to become fully informed before they themselves spread misinformation.

I attended a Hidden Gems presentation recently and encourage others to do the same or to contact representatives with questions.

A time will come when there no longer will be pristine areas like those covered by the Hidden Gems proposal. We are at the perfect crux in time to preserve these unique areas for those who will come after us.

Zac Montoya, Vail


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