Coalition ups recommendation for new wilderness | CraigDailyPress.com

Coalition ups recommendation for new wilderness

DENVER (AP) A citizens’ group has recommended designating more federal wilderness areas in Colorado, boosting its previous proposal by 245,519 acres to a total of 1.6 million acres.

The Colorado Wilderness Network announced its plan Wednesday during a news conference attended by some of the volunteers who toured the state to look at and map the areas.

The coalition, made up of 280 environmental, business and civic groups, will present the proposal to Colorado’s congressional delegation in hopes legislation will be introduced.

”We’ll be formally asking them to support our proposal,” said Cindy Harding, spokesman for the coalition.

Most of the 1.6 million acres are managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Many of the new proposed sites are in rugged canyons on the Western Slope that the coalition said are threatened by the Bush administration’s push to increase oil and gas drilling on public lands.

”The oil and gas industry already has access to 90 percent of Colorado’s BLM lands, and the Bush administration’s energy plan proposes to give them the rest of our areas as well,” said Suzanne Jones, assistant regional director for The Wilderness Society.

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Colorado has 3.3 million acres of official wilderness, which is off-limits to development and motorized vehicles. Environmentalists said most of the sites are in the mountains on U.S. Forest Service land while lower-elevation areas that should be protected have been left out.

Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., has proposed declaring 1.35 million more acres in Colorado as wilderness. She agreed to delay introducing her bill until some of the affected counties finished gathering public comments.

Colorado Counties Inc., which represents county governments, will unveil its own plan Aug. 1 in Grand Junction, spokeswoman Leslie Oliver said.

”The hope is it will be information for our congressional delegation to take back to Washington with them,” Oliver said. ”There is no specific goal in mind, but these are people at the local level who have to live with the designations.”

Some Republican members of Colorado’s delegation have pledged to fight the plan if it doesn’t have the support of local residents.

Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., would consider supporting more wilderness if people in the affected areas endorse it, said Sean Conway, Allard’s spokesman. Conway noted Allard co-sponsored legislation last year that created the Spanish Peaks Wilderness, 18,000 acres of high-mountain forest in southwestern Colorado.

”He’s clearly shown a willingness to work on wilderness,” Conway way. ”But it has to be locally driven, from the bottom up.”

The Colorado Wilderness Network updated an earlier wilderness proposal after three years of extensive mapping and fieldwork, spokeswoman Harding said. Most of the 51 sites in the new plan are in western Colorado.

Several groups drafted the first wilderness plan after the Bureau of Land Management recommended adding about 380,000 more acres of wilderness during a congressionally mandated inventory in the 1980s. The agency has since increased the suggested amount by a couple hundred thousand acres.

Harding said only 144,644 acres of BLM land, or 1.8 percent, are wilderness.

On the Net:

Colorado Wilderness Network: http://www.cowildernessnetwork.org

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