Garfield County Commissioners oppose DeGette wilderness bill

Colorado Wilderness Act would designate more than 71,000 acres in the county

Garfield County has submitted a letter in opposition to the Colorado Wilderness Act, one part of a much larger eight-bill package known as the Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act. The Board of County Commissioners noted in its letter that the piecemeal wilderness approach does not represent the citizens of Garfield County and would impose restrictions on public lands that limit access and restrict or eliminate mining, oil and gas development, grazing hunting and recreation.

The county’s letter is addressed to Representative Diana DeGette, who sponsored the wilderness act. The proposed act does little to preserve the land, which when left undisturbed, is highly susceptible to wildfires, insect infestation and disease, the letter states.

DeGette neither coordinated nor contacted Garfield County about the bill. Garfield County’s Federal Lands Natural Resources Plan and Polices notes that any consideration of new wilderness areas should be analyzed in coordination with the county.

“Unfortunately, [Diana DeGette], as the bill’s sponsor, did not elect to meaningfully engage or coordinate with Garfield County or many of the other West Slope counties, which also have been designated for additional wilderness,” the letter notes.

Roughly 11 percent, or 71,256 acres, of the proposed wilderness acreage is in Garfield County. Overall, more than 62 percent of Garfield County is public lands, much of which is already under some form of protection.

The proposed wilderness could have negative impacts to Garfield County’s economy, which relies heavily on industries that operate on public lands.

“This doesn’t match up with our federal lands natural resources coordination plan,” said Commissioner Tom Jankovsky. “We list our policies on wilderness in that plan, and without talking to us, she’s asking for 11 percent of the proposed wilderness to come out of Garfield County.”

“This is another example of the federal government making a land grab,” added Commissioner Mike Samson.

Commissioner John Martin noted that Colorado Counties, Inc. (CCI) and the National Association of Counties (NACo) have agreed to support wilderness proposals as long as all affected counties have been coordinated with and support the bill. Conversely, those groups oppose all wilderness bills that do not have the support of the affected counties. He noted that many local and federal processes were skipped in the wilderness bill.

“This is under the Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Federal Land Management and Policy Act (FLPMA). We need to follow the process,” Martin said. “Yes, it’s time consuming and can be frustrating, but it’s a better product if all that is done. This has not been done in four areas in Garfield County.”

The letter was approved unanimously, 3-0. The county also signed a letter in opposition to President Joe Biden’s proposed “30 X 30” executive order that would permanently preserve 30 percent of public land and water by 2030, effectively removing 680 million acres from multiple use management practices.

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