On September 3rd, 1964 President Lyndon Johnson signed the Wilderness Act into law, which set aside 1.9 million acres as protected wilderness, and gave us the tools and framework to inventory and designate wild places "where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain". Over the last 50 years, Congress has added over 100 million acres of wildlands to the National Wilderness Preservation System in recognition of their ecological, scientific, cultural, economic and spiritual values.
Wilderness plays an important role here in Colorado, providing us with clean air and water, and sustaining our tourism economy. We are fortunate to have wilderness areas like the Maroon Bells, Hunter-Fryingpan and Holy Cross. However, many existing protected wilderness areas consist of 'rock & ice' landscapes. While these areas draw tourists for their spectacular beauty, it is the nearby mid-elevation lands that provide more diverse habitat, migration corridors and winter range for wildlife. These areas are largely unprotected and citizens have developed a proposal to protect additional qualifying lands through wilderness designation and 'special management areas'.
Rep. Jared Polis introduced his Eagle and Summit County Wilderness Preservation Act in April 2011, which will protect 162,000 acres in those two counties under wilderness or near-wilderness designations. In February 2012, Sen. Mark Udall unveiled his Central Mountains Outdoor Heritage proposal, which includes all the same areas and acreages as Polis's bill, plus all citizen-proposed areas in Pitkin County. It will create several brand-new, standalone wilderness areas and enlarge the boundaries of all the existing wilderness areas in our region - all together, 32 separate parcels totaling 235,000 acres. In July 2012, Sen. Michael Bennet announced his intention to work on a separate bill for lands in Gunnison County through a process he's calling the Gunnison Public Lands Initiative .