Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act Passed!

On December 12th the U.S. Senate passed the Hermosa Creek Wilderness Protection Act as part of the huge $585 billion military defense spending bill, which had been previously approved by the House. President Obama signed the package into law on the 19th. The Hermosa legislation was the result of work done by the River Protection Workgroup (RPW) which is a collaborative effort to provide alternative protections of values while allowing water development to continue. Members of the RPW Steering Committee include the conservation community, State and Federal government agencies, and representatives of the Southwestern Water Conservation District.  The Colorado Water Conservation Board has provided much of the funding for the RPW, which were leveraged by contributions from local entities. As such, nearly 38,000 acres of new wilderness will be created north of Durango as part of a measure protecting more than 100,000 acres of the Hermosa Creek watershed in the San Juan National Forest. Besides creating new wilderness, the Hermosa Creek measure would establish a special management area covering more than 70,000 acres, with much of the land remaining open to historic uses such as mountain biking, motorized recreation, and selective logging. U.S. Representative Scott Tipton (R-Cortez), U.S. Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO), and U.S. Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) were all supporters of the bill. Bennet said in a news release, “Folks in southwest Colorado can finally claim victory. Everyone in the local communities—from sportsmen, to snowmobilers, to conservationists, to the mining industry—can celebrate their hard work to come together and implement their shared vision for one of Colorado’s natural treasures.”
Altogether, nearly 100 public lands bills were included in the defense measure, making it the first significant public lands package in five years. The lands package would designate nearly 250,000 acres of wilderness in Colorado, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, and Washington; create special management areas and preclude mineral development on hundreds of thousands of additional acres; and protect approximately 140 miles of rivers. However, the comprehensive legislation also included measures environmental groups do not like, including streamlining drilling and grazing permits, privatizing thousands of federal acres for mining and logging, and a land swap involving national forest land in Arizona to accommodate development of the third-largest copper ore mine in the world.