Saturday, December 15, 2001
You have to wonder if the City Council wouldn't like a "do-over" on its resolution supporting the designation of 1.6 million acres of federal land in Colorado as wilderness. Maybe if council members had not approved the resolution back in October, they would not have spent nearly two hours last Tuesday listening to a debate on the issue, which the council has little or no influence on.
Not that the City Council isn't entitled to its opinion. In fact, there are many who support the wilderness designation, which would severely limit how federal lands can be used in Colorado. The designation would prohibit new roads, motorized vehicles and new oil and gas drilling among other uses on federal land that has been identified as pristine wilderness area.
Supporters say such restrictions are necessary to protect the property and the wildlife that inhabits it. Roads and all-terrain vehicles carve up the land and destroy wildlife habitat. The Colorado Wilderness Network made that pitch to the council, and the council responded by passing the resolution.
Never mind that Routt County has absolutely zero acreage eligible for the wilderness designation. This council has developed a green streak in recent years and the resolution simply continued that trend. Besides, such resolutions are often approved without a peep from anyone. Not this time. The resolution prompted a Hatfield-and-McCoy-style feud with neighboring Moffat County, which has roughly 300,000 acres of federal land that would be eligible for wilderness designation under the proposal. The Moffat County commissioners argue the designation is an unnecessary intrusion on lands that are being properly managed now. The commissioners believe the lands should remain open to the recreational uses employed today and to the possibility of future energy exploration. They think local government should have a say in how their federal lands are used.
The commissioners, miffed the Steamboat council passed the resolution without contacting them first, threatened to pull Moffat County out of joint regional programs if the council didn't rescind its resolution.
Wilderness supporters wrote letters to the editor. Opponents responded. Supporters responded to the responses. Both sides have lobbied the Steamboat Springs City Council as if it was Florida in the 2000 presidential election. It's not. The City Council has no role in deciding wilderness designation, so whether the council stands by or rescinds the resolution just doesn't matter much. That's why it seems foolish Centennial Hall has become ground zero for this debate.
The next time the Wilderness Network and the Moffat County commissioners want to argue wilderness designation, they should do it someplace appropriate, like Craig. And the next time Steamboat City Council members want to weigh in on a federal issue that has nothing to do with this community, they'd be wise to remember the time they have wasted with this resolution.