Steamboat Springs About 600 Steamboat Springs residents will be asked to support a congressional bill that could put more than a million acres of Colorado land under the protection of the Wilderness Act much of which is in Moffat County and strongly opposed by county officials.
Five staff members of the environmental group Clean Water Action will go door to door for the rest of the week to ask support for the bill, which was introduced by Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colorado.
"All of these areas have met the criteria of wilderness" Carmi McLean, Colorado director of Clean Water Action, said.
She said the land, much of which the Bureau of Land Management controls, has been identified by numerous environmental groups as having a need for protection.
The land, according to the group, has no permanent roads, an element of solitude and no trace of man.
McLean added that she believes the land won't stay that way for more than 10 years without wilderness protection.
"Mining and off-road vehicle use is our biggest concern," she said.
The protection of the Wilderness Act would stop any new oil or gas mining permits and would eliminate any motorized use in the areas.
This is the second time DeGette has attempted to put land under the protection of the Wilderness Act. In 1999 she proposed a bill to protect 1.4 million acres in Colorado, but it died in committee, McLean said.
Now, Bill HR 944 would protect about 700,000 acres but a revision expected in August would encompass more than 1.35 million acres.
Supporters hope that gaining public support through a grass-roots effort would show Congress that Americans back it, McLean said.
The 1.35 million acres is spread between 13 counties, most of which are on the Western Slope.
It would increase the amount of wilderness acreage in Colorado, which is at 3.3 million, by about one-third.
Moffat County has the largest amount of land proposed for protection, with 278,122 acres including a portion of the Yampa River, Cold Spring Mountain and Vermillion Basin.
"We oppose this and we oppose it strongly," Moffat County Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos said.
She said the environmental groups may have done their own studies to determine the need for protection in these areas but they didn't collect any public opinion or contact the county until the bill's introduction in 1999.
"It's not appropriate for (DeGette) to be dictating what we should do here, especially when she is from District 1 (Denver)," she said.
Some of the areas listed do have roads and are used by Moffat County residents.
Also, the county has its own land-use plan, which it developed through public comment. Protecting this large acreage of land is not reflected in that plan, Raftopoulos added.
The county would agree to some wilderness protection and has done its own studies to support its decision but it would be at a fraction of what HR 944 proposes, she said.
Blain Rethmeier, a spokesman for Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo., who represents the Western Slope in District 3, said McInnis is supportive of protecting some land in Colorado by the Wilderness Act but only with more local input.
"We are looking at putting together our own legislation that would seek more local input than (DeGette) did," Rethmeier said.
That legislation is expected to happen this year, he said.