The San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act in the southwestern corner of Colorado will designate 33,000 acres of spectacular wild lands as wilderness, 21,697 acres of Special Management areas, and 6,595 acres of mineral withdrawal. This includes both expansions of current wilderness areas such as Lizard Head and Mount Sneffels wilderness areas and will also establish a new area called McKenna Peak in western San Miguel County, and create the Sheep Mountain Special Management Area along the alpine ridge between San Miguel and San Juan Counties, and prohibit oil and gas development in Naturita Canyon near Norwood.
The bill was introduced by former Senator Mark Udall and co-sponsored by Senator Michael Bennet. It reflects extensive collaboration done over several years with local leaders and interested stakeholders. As a result, the bill is supported by all three affected counties. Udall and Bennet previously introduced the bill in 2009 with former Congressman John Salazar, again in 2011 and most recently in February 2013. Altogether, the bill will preserve more than 61,000 acres - a region that includes two "Fourteeners" (peaks over 14,000 feet high) and the sole water supply of the town of Ridgway. Outdoor recreation groups supporting the bill say it will bolster the area's economy. Over five years in the making, multiple groups worked together to make sure all stakeholders were heard during the citizen initiated process. Conservation groups and lawmakers met with all user groups and adjacent landowners of the areas, found compromise and developed a proposal that has a broad range of support from the entire region.
Bipartisan work is being currently done with Senator Bennet and Rep. Tipton on Good Samaritan legislation to protect the rivers of the San Juans. Legislation will enact liability relief for non-responsible parties - to clean up point-source mine pollution, and to then improve water quality and trout habitat.
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