Eagle County commissioner wants to form wilderness task force | SkyHiNews.com

Eagle County commissioner wants to form wilderness task force

Daily staff report

EAGLE COUNTY – In response to at least two campaigns aimed at increasing the amount of land designated as wilderness in Eagle and other Colorado counties, Eagle County Commissioner Peter Runyon this week announced he would lead an effort to establish a task force to review all wilderness proposals.

A letter has been sent to representatives of Archuleta, Chafee, Custer, Delores, Delta, El Paso, Fremont, Garfield, Grand, Gunnison, Hinsdale, Jackson, La Plata, Lake, Mesa, Moffat, Montezuma, Montrose, Ouray, Pitkin, Rio Blanco, Routt, Saguache, San Juan, San Miguel and Summit counties. It asks the U.S. Congress to fund a special, Colorado-led task force to evaluate all of the wilderness proposals that might affect the western part of the state.

Currently, two large efforts are underway, including a bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Denver) that could create 850,000 acres of new wilderness in 18 counties, and the “Hidden Gems” campaign that could create 400,000 acres of new wilderness, primarily in Eagle, Gunnison, Pitkin and Summit counties, with smaller sections in Delta, Garfield and Mesa counties.

Runyon said the intent of the joint effort would be to produce a recommendation for a proposal that incorporates the best elements of the different plans.

“We’ve been asked to support a few of these proposals, without the benefit of information on how they overlap or an assurance that all stakeholder groups have been consulted,” Runyon said. “While only Congress has the authority to designate wilderness areas, Colorado’s counties have a unique perspective on how these designations can affect their communities.”

Responses to the letter have ranged from agreement, to suggestions for changes, to a lack of desire for any wilderness within a county – regardless of the process.

“This is an evolving discussion between divergent groups,” Runyon said. “Ideally, we would create a method whereby local officials can feel confident that they can endorse, or oppose, wilderness proposals based on adequate information and full citizen participation.”

For more information, contact Runyon, 970-328-8605.