Vail Daily’s View: Gems legislation moving slowly | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily’s View: Gems legislation moving slowly

Vail Daily Editorial Board
Vail, CO Colorado

Passions seem to run high whenever the topic of the Hidden Gems wilderness proposal comes up. But it’s probably time for a little dispassionate analysis, so here we go.

Proposal backers keep saying they think they can get Hidden Gems through Congress this year. That, in part, is what has opponents of the proposal fired up – the prospect of having new wilderness “rammed down our throats.”

The reality isn’t nearly as fast-paced.

Rep. Jared Polis, who represents Eagle and Summit counties in Congress, just got the formal Hidden Gems proposal this summer. He and his staff are still working on drafting a bill, and a spokeswoman for his office has said Polis plans to take a “trail by trail” look at the proposal.

That means there isn’t a bill drafted right now. The nonexistent bill also doesn’t have a sponsor in the Senate, and we’ve heard off-the-record indications that at least one of Colorado’s senators believes the Hidden Gems proposal isn’t nearly ready to be debated in Congress.

The proposal also lacks the solid support of Colorado’s entire congressional delegation.

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If you don’t think that’s essential, consider that Denver Rep. Diana DeGette has sponsored virtually the same wilderness proposal for about 10 years running, without the support of the rest of the state’s delegation. That bill has gone exactly nowhere every year.

Time is also a big factor in any attempt to get a Hidden Gems bill done this year.

Polis acknowledges he hasn’t written a Hidden Gems bill yet, and it’s almost mid-June. Considering that Congress will adjourn in August and then swing into full campaign mode, there’s not a lot of time.

Consider, too, that there’s a lot Congress is already working on. Wilderness legislation isn’t at the top of very many to-do lists back in D.C.

Could we get a Hidden Gems bill written, debated and passed in this session? Sure. And President Barack Obama could create the wilderness area with an executive order, the way President Bill Clinton did with the Grand Staircase-Escalante area in Utah during his second term.

But the realistic prospects of that happening are pretty slim. So Hidden Gems advocates will keep advocating, and opponents will keep opposing, as they should.

And the real debate is more likely to come next year, not this.

Vail Daily Editorial Board