Still no action on the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act

August 25, 2014
Hermosa Park

Hermosa Park

From The Denver Post (Scott Willoughby):

Coloradans, perhaps better than anyone, understand and appreciate just how special the wilderness can be. And as connoisseurs of the outdoors, they recognize there are not only wild places, but there are best wild places.

These are the places that inspire — some acknowledged and held sacred, others that have managed to remain under the radar. Others still find themselves perched in a sort of purgatory somewhere in between.

Hermosa Creek, in the San Juan National forest just north of Durango, might qualify among those in-betweeners. To Durango locals, the drainage that translates to “beautiful” creek epitomizes the Colorado outdoor experience, and they’d like to see it remain that way. But those who don’t frequent the Four Corners region may not be aware of all that this hidden gem has to offer.

Count the majority of U.S. Congress among that latter group. For more than a year now, a bipartisan bill known as the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act has languished in the legislative branch of our federal government as a consensus of local stakeholders await acknowledgment of efforts to preserve the attributes that make the place so special.

“The primary thing the bill does is it takes the basin and protects it exactly as it is today,” said Ty Churchwell, backcountry coordinator for Trout Unlimited’s Sportsmen’s Conservation Project. “This bill is completely supported by consensus from all stakeholders — everyone from county commissioners and town boards to sportsmen, miners, mountain bikers and motorized users. There’s nothing for them to do in D.C. but vote it forward.”

Beyond its lush landscape and idyllic scenery, the beauty of Hermosa lies in its everyman outdoors appeal. The upper creek is a focal point of Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Colorado River cutthroat reintroduction program, and the state’s largest unprotected roadless area remains a hunter’s paradise where trophy elk still die of old age. The 20-mile main trail along the creek corridor is a mountain biker’s mecca. The same trail is shared by a reasonable number of motorized users. Backpackers and horseback riders might cross the creek and make their way into a proposed 38,000-acre wilderness area a quarter mile away.

Overall, the bill would protect 108,000 acres through a series of special management areas, allowing for a variety of historic uses. It’s a one-of-a-kind proposal aimed at protecting an entire watershed as an intact, whole unit, rather than parts and pieces of it.

“When we started talking about protecting Hermosa as a river, the work group decided to look at this river basin as a whole ecological unit instead of just a river corridor,” Churchwell said. “That means that the boundaries for this protection are the ridge lines. Everything that flows out of this basin is included in the protection — the whole watershed. It’s the first time that we are aware of that there has ever been a protection bill that encompasses an entire watershed.”

As a result, a coalition of sportsmen’s conservation groups, guides and outfitters, fly shops and retailers, have united with local government entities in support of protecting this public land deemed vital to America’s hunting and fishing traditions and values.

“Hermosa Creek and the backcountry lands that flank its banks are among the special places that hunters and anglers in Colorado and across the region see as crucial to protect for the good of sportsmen, the environment and the sustainability of area businesses,” said John Gale, the Colorado-based manager of the National Wildlife Federation’s sportsmen’s outreach.

Should a portion of the drainage receive federal Wilderness designation this year, it will mark the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act of 1964 as only the second wilderness area recognized by Congress since 2009.

More Hermosa Creek watershed coverage here and here.


Volunteers needed for Hermosa Creek cutthroat restoration effort Saturday

July 11, 2014

From The Durango Herald:

The Five Rivers chapter of Trout Unlimited is soliciting volunteers to help with a cutthroat trout restoration project Saturday on Hermosa Creek behind Purgatory.

The work involves restoring disturbed areas around the fish barrier built last fall on the East Fork of Hermosa Creek. Volunteers also will breach beaver dams and perhaps install “beaver deceiver” devices to stabilize flows.

While cutthroat thrive on the upper end of the East Fork, non-native species have taken hold in the lower end and in other Hermosa Creek tributaries.

Beaver dams harbor refuges for non-native species.

Volunteers should meet at 9 a.m. at the bottom of Forest Service Road 578, which leads into the Hermosa Valley behind Purgatory.

Information is available from Buck Skillen at 382-8248 or Glenn May at 570-9088.

More Hermosa Creek watershed coverage here and here.


Hermosa bill up in the air — The Durango Herald

June 9, 2014

Proposed Hermosa Creek watershed protection area via The Durango Herald

Proposed Hermosa Creek watershed protection area via The Durango Herald


Here’s an in-depth look at the resource and proposed legislation for Hermosa Creek and it’s environs from John Peel writing for The Durango Herald. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet are among those with the final say, and the good news is they’re pulling hard for it. Both have introduced the act into their respective chambers of Congress.

But here’s the frustration: Even they haven’t been able to push through a bill that nobody on record has yet opposed…

In 2008 a steering committee formed, and in the next 22 months, it painstakingly, delicately, hammered out a balanced plan. Fishermen, hunters, mountain bikers, equestrians, motorcyclists, wilderness lovers, ranchers and water districts, to name a few, kept at it.

“Everyone was reasonable,” Churchwell says. But then he qualifies that, “Not in the beginning.

“Every one of us gave up something to get something. … It was an incredible experience. It really was.”

In all, it took nearly four years to craft legislation, says Widen, who is the Wilderness Society’s senior public lands representative.

“It was a long and tedious process, but that’s really what brought everyone together,” Widen says. “I think the way the Hermosa Creek group worked is just a stellar example of how it should work.”

Bennet and Tipton took the efforts of the Hermosa Creek Workgroup and created bills. The Senate took the first step last year by holding a subcommittee hearing, and the House did the same this year.

Next is for the bill to go to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and House Natural Resources Committee for “mark-up” – a process where committee members can make changes. If those committees pass the bill, it goes to the full chambers for votes.

“We are very hopeful it will get out of committee in the next 30 days and possibly a floor vote before August recess,” says Darlene Marcus, Tipton’s Durango-based representative. “It is a priority of the congressman and his staff.”

The House’s Natural Resources chairman is Doc Hastings, R-Wash.; Widen said Natural Resources member Rob Bishop, R-Utah, has indicated he wants to move the bill. In the Senate, it’s unclear how soon new Energy and Natural Resources chair, Mary Landrieu, D-La., will bring it up. It may help that Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., is a senior member of that committee and a bill co-sponsor.

Bennet, through his Denver office, said Sunday that the bill “recognizes the diverse set of people who use the space, ranging from ATVers to fisherman to hikers.” He called Hermosa Creek “one of Colorado’s crown jewels.”

“This is one of our most pressing priorities, and we’re hopeful that we can successfully move it through Congress by the end of this session,” Bennet said.

So what does the act do? For starters, it protects wildlife, much of the current trail use and water quality.

Zink, a Durango native, says he actually got involved stemming from his role as secretary of the Animas Consolidated Ditch Co. The hunter, cyclist and horseman dons so many hats “it wears my hair out.”

He likes the plan because it basically keeps land use the way it is now – and that’s what the community’s been asking for during the last half-century of studies and forest plans.

From the air, the 107,886-acre area, which comprises nearly the entire Hermosa watershed, is an uneven green carpet of trees, with a few brown streaks of forest roads north of the East Fork and the snow-capped peaks of Hermosa and Grayrock on the northern border.

The bill would create 37,236 acres of wilderness in the western portion. There would be a 68,289-acre “special management area,” with the northern chunk to be left as is, dirt roads and all. The eastern part (43,000 acres) would be protected as a roadless area but still allow mountain bikes and motorcycles.


Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act is still alive and kicking — John Peel

June 6, 2014
Hermosa Park

Hermosa Park

From The Durango Herald (John Peel):

It’s not exactly screaming through Congress, but the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act is still alive and kicking, backers and aides to two key congressional leaders say.

“It’s moving at a snail’s pace, but it is moving,” says Ty Churchwell, backcountry coordinator for Trout Unlimited and one of the movers and shakers of the plan.

The problem is congressional gridlock, some would say dysfunction. Senators and congressmen just aren’t in the mood to do anything that might help the opposing party, particularly with mid-term elections looming.

“If Hermosa doesn’t pass, it won’t be because of substance,” says Jeff Widen of the Wilderness Society. “It’ll be because of politics.”

An aide to Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., said this week that Tipton hopes to get the bill to a floor vote by August recess.

More Hermosa Creek watershed coverage here and here.


Hermosa Creek: Durango Mountain Resort is lawyering up to fight the USFS

April 27, 2014

Hermosa Park

Hermosa Park


From The Durango Herald (Joe Hanel):

Durango Mountain Resort is getting ready to sue the U.S. Forest Service over access to its water rights – rights it needs for future development on the mountain.

The dispute comes at the same time the Forest Service is under fire nationally for its attempts to force ski resorts to turn over their water rights as a condition for getting their permits renewed.

Meanwhile at the state Legislature, a bill by Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, to curb the Forest Service’s water-rights policy appears to be dead as Democratic leaders defer to the federal agency for the second consecutive year.

Roberts’ bill would not help Durango Mountain Resort, which has a slightly different dispute with the Forest Service. But the resort’s CEO, Gary Derck, sees a pattern of the Forest Service trying to get control of ski resorts’ water rights…

The ski resort owns conditional water rights to six wells on the back side of the mountain, on land its previous owners traded to the Forest Service in the 1990s. The trade did not include water rights, but the agency now says it will not allow Durango Mountain Resort to access the wells.

Lawyers for the Forest Service have asked a local water judge to deny Durango Mountain Resort’s rights to the wells. The resort’s rights are conditional, and it needs to prove to a water judge every six years that it is working toward making the rights absolute and putting the water to use.

But starting in 2010, the Forest Service began opposing the ski area in water court.

“Any additional proposals to divert and convey water from the upper East Hermosa Creek will not be accepted by the San Juan National Forest and authorization will not be granted,” former Forest Supervisor Mark Stiles wrote in a June 2012 legal filing.

The ski area’s owners say they have legal rights to access their water rights, and after several years of wrangling with the Forest Service, they are getting ready to sue.

“We’re trying to find a way not to go to court because it would be expensive, and we’re just a little old ski area down here in Southwest Colorado,” Derck said.


H.R. 1839: Tipton’s Hermosa Creek Legislation Moves Forward in House

March 7, 2014

Here’s the release from U.S. Representative Scott Tipton’s office:

Congressman Scott Tipton’s (R-CO) Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act of 2013 (H.R. 1839) received a legislative hearing in the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation. The community-driven legislation would protect the Hermosa Creek Watershed—a 108,000 acre area in the San Juan National Forest north of Durango—as well as protect multiple use of the land.

“When it comes to land use designations, I support a balanced approach that includes respecting the environment that we all deeply value, while making the best use of our natural resources. Recreation, preservation, access and job creation are all important aspects of the multiple use management for which these lands are truly intended,” Tipton said. “I’m a firm believer that land use designations should be driven with a balance of local initiative and consideration that public lands belong to all Americans. Such is the case with Hermosa Creek Watershed, where I have worked with local citizens and groups and Senator Michael Bennet to put forward a plan to permanently protect the area while maintaining access and multiple use of the land. The Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act has truly been a locally-driven effort and has broad community support.”

Read Tipton’s opening statement here.

The Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act has been endorsed by a broad coalition of stakeholders including: the City of Durango, the La Plata County Commission, the Southwestern Water Conservation District, the San Juan County Commission, Region 9, the Colorado Snowmobile Association, Jo Grant Mining Company, Inc., in addition to numerous business and sportsmen groups, among others. Tipton submitted their letters of support to the record.

During the hearing, Scott Jones, a representative from the Colorado Snowmobile Association and other Colorado-based off road groups, testified in support of the legislation.

“The motorized community supports this legislation, as we believe the legislation represents a significant step towards protecting multiple use recreation and highly valued natural resources in the proposal areas,” said Jones. “For the motorized community there are two major components of the legislation we support, which are the release of the Wilderness Study area and designation of the special management area for the protection of motorized recreation. The motorized community does agree that the area to be designated Wilderness has generally not seen a high level of motorized recreation and the area is suitable for designation.”

Read Scott Jones’s testimony here.

Under H.R. 1839, much of the land will remain open to historic uses, including mountain biking, motorized recreation, hunting, fishing and selective timber harvesting. Grazing will be permitted in the entire watershed. This legislation ensures that areas currently open to snowmobiling on Molas Pass will remain open for future use. This will benefit outdoor recreation enthusiasts and continue to provide an important source of economic activity for the area. If this bill is not passed, then snowmobiling will cease in this region following the 2013/2014 winter season. This legislation also contains important provisions that allow for active land management in areas designated by the bill as necessary to control wildfires, insect infestations and disease outbreaks.

H.R. 1839 will now need to receive a markup in the full House Natural Resources Committee. Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) is carrying companion legislation in the Senate (S.841).

Learn more about the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act here.

From The Durango Herald (Katie Fiegenbaum):

The House Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation held a hearing on the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act (HR 1839) on Thursday. Here’s what you should know about the act and the hearing…

Within three years of the bill’s passage, a management plan would have to be developed for the area, based on recommendations from the Hermosa Creek River Protection Workgroup, a diverse group of constituents.

About 37,000 acres of this area, on the west side of Hermosa Creek, would be designated as federal wilderness. No road, mineral or other development would be allowed inside this area.

About 68,000 acres, mostly on the east side of the creek, would be designated as the “Hermosa Creek Special Management Area.” It would remain open to historic uses, including mountain biking, hunting, fishing, motorized recreation and selective timber harvesting.

Grazing would be allowed throughout the protection area.

Why is it important?

The area in the bill has long been recommended for a wilderness designation and is some of the most pristine in Southwest Colorado. The land surrounds Hermosa Creek, which flows into the Animas River and is an important water source for Durango and surrounding areas.

“Water is the most important thing we get from this area,” said Ed Zink, a Durango rancher and small-business owner, who attended the hearing. “And to protect the water, we have to protect the land.”

He says the water in Hermosa Creek is much better quality than in the Animas and provides dilution and better overall water quality.

“It’s easier to protect the Hermosa than to fix the Animas,” Zink said…

Many studies since the Wilderness Act passed in 1964 have recommended a federal wilderness designation for this land, but it has never materialized. For the last six years or so, people in the area have worked on the bill to preserve the historic use of the land and give it a wilderness designation.

“A lot of various groups worked very hard to bring this together,” Tipton said in a phone interview after the hearing. “We’ve got something that is very appealing at the local level, and it should serve as a model for writing future legislation.”[...]

The area to be designated as federal wilderness hasn’t seen a high level of motorized recreation and is suitable for that designation, Jones said…

The House version of the bill will be scheduled for markup by the full committee and voted on.

“I am confident that there will be no pushback on the bill from the committee,” Tipton said.

He thinks the bill will move forward quickly and said he would work to expedite the process.

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., introduced the bill in the Senate in April 2013. The Senate version is co-sponsored by Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo.

It received a committee hearing in the Senate in November, but has yet to be voted on in committee. According to Philip Clelland, Bennet’s deputy press secretary, his office is working with the committee and is hopeful that a vote will be scheduled soon.

More Hermosa Creek coverage here and here.


US Representative Scott Tipton Testifies on Hermosa Creek Legislation in Senate

November 29, 2013
Hermosa Park

Hermosa Park

Here’s the release from Representative Tipton’s office:

Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO), today, testified in support of the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act of 2013 in the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee. Tipton and Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) have introduced companion bills in the House (H.R. 1839) and Senate (S.841) to protect the Hermosa Creek Watershed–an area in the San Juan National Forest north of Durango–as well as protect multiple use of the land.

In his testimony, Tipton spoke on the community effort behind the legislation that is endorsed by a broad coalition of stakeholders including: the City of Durango, the La Plata County Commission, the Southwestern Water Conservation District, the San Juan County Commission, Region 9, the Colorado Snowmobilers Association, Jo Grant Mining Company, Inc., in addition to numerous business and sportsmen groups, among others.

More Hermosa Creek watershed coverage here and here.


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