As a disabled Veteran who is married to a wife with heart disease when the land closures are promoted by politicians it not only prevents us access to the land but it blocks it for every person with disabilities, the elderly, and the handicapped.

Michael Bennet, a Democrat Senator from Colorado, has reintroduced a bill that would vastly increase wilderness in southwestern Colorado, potentially closing off thousands of acres to motorized use, and threatening mining claims and existing water rights. Reviving a failed 2010 effort by former Senator, Mark Udall, Bennet’s ‘San Juan Wilderness’ bill would affect lands in several Colorado counties including San Juan, Ouray, and San Miguel, limiting access and resource development by expanding existing wilderness designations and creating new Special Management Areas:

•Sheep Mountain Special Management Area (21,675 acres)

•Liberty Bell East Special Management Area (792 acres)

•Lizard Head Wilderness Addition (3,141 acres)

•Liberty Bell and Last Dollar Additions (7,279 acres)

•White House Additions (12,468 acres)

•McKenna Peak Wilderness (8,600 acres)

Bennet’s bill is not limited to new wilderness and special management areas, but includes the withdrawal of 6,590 acres from mineral-rich Naturita Canyon, a remote region popular with prospectors. The mineral withdrawal would nullify existing and future mining claims, patents, and leases within the proposed area.

In total, nearly 61,000 acres would be impacted by the relatively severe restrictions and regulations that accompany wilderness designations.

Certain recreational activities would likely be prohibited if the law passes. The Daily Sentinel reported:

Scott Jones, president of the Colorado Snowmobile Association, said many of the areas proposed for wilderness in the current bill were kept out of the 1980 Colorado Wilderness Act due to their high recreational values. He said that followed a process to reach consensus and balance on what lands should and shouldn’t be included in the 1980 bill. “We would essentially be going back and changing all that consensus,” he said.

The San Juan Citizens Alliance, an environmentalist group with ties to green billionaire Tom Steyer, which supports the act, published the following map of the impacted areas on their website.

San Juan Citizens Alliance

With the loss of motorized access, people with physical limitations will lose access to these lands. No efforts to make accommodations for the disabled are mentioned in Bennet’s proposed wilderness bill. Benjamin Crain, State Director for the Gold Prospecting Association of America of Colorado, is a hobby miner and a disabled veteran. He expressed his concerns about the new designation saying:

As a disabled Veteran who is married to a wife with heart disease when the land closures are promoted by politicians it not only prevents us access to the land but it blocks it for every person with disabilities, the elderly, and the handicapped. This is a direct violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act which was passed through Congress, not by Executive order.

The new attempt to block lands in Colorado around the Horsefly Mesa is just another example and must be stopped. As it is right now the McInnis canyons, Black canyons, and many other areas myself, my wife, and millions of other people will not be able to visit.

These land grabs by politicians need to be stopped, any of them that try to pass a bill to take more land in violation of the law passed by Congress need to be never voted for again.

Leave the Western Slope alone, pass laws on the front range, but the hard working people that provide the power to the Front Range need to be left alone.

Water rights are also at risk if the bill should pass through Congress. The Daily Sentinel reported that Chris Treese, of the Colorado River District, said:  “…the district is concerned the bill could jeopardize the ability of people to make use of their water rights, such as by prohibiting motorized access to headgates, and could make it hard for those with conditional rights to get them converted into absolute rights.”

Bennet is among several members of Congress pushing wilderness designations in the West. Jon Tester of Montana, has introduced a bill recommending new designations and restrictions for his state, and last year, Dick Durbin of Illinois introduced “America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act,” which would lock away vast regions of Utah from access and development.

To give your input about Senator Bennet’s San Juan Wilderness Act you can call his offices in:

Washington D.C.: 202-224-5852

Denver:  303-455-7600

San Luis Office: 719-587-0096

Or comment here:

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