Hermosa Act trickles toward vote

The Hermosa Creek watershed continues its slow flow toward permanent protection.

On Thurs., Nov. 13, the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act passed out of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources with uncontested bipartisan support. The latest version of the bill more closely resembles its original wording, which was changed to the dismay of its drafters and supporters when it passed through House committee earlier this fall.

Specifically, the newest version returns wording allowing snowmobiling on Molas Pass, a wilderness study area, and takes out wording that would have allowed for ancillary roads and transmission lines in the protection area.

“It shows that Rep. Tipton really listened. He heard the concerns from both (San Juan and La Plata) counties and responded,” Jimbo Buickerood, Public Lands Coordinator for the San Juan Citizens Alliance, said Monday.

Although there were still a few changes from the original, Buickerood said those are “to be expected” and the latest version most closely reflects the bill’s original intent.

The bill would protect close to 110,000 acres the San Juan National Forest north of Durango. Based on recommendations from the community-based Hermosa Creek River Protection Workgroup, it would set aside 70,650 acres in a special management area and another 38,000 acres as wilderness. Much of the special management area would remain open to historic uses such as mountain biking, motorized recreation, grazing and some timber harvesting. Hunting, fishing, horseback riding, non-mechanized recreation and grazing would be allowed in the wilderness area.

“As we worked through the legislative process some of the language in the initial draft needed to be clarified to ensure that the community’s goals would be carried out, without the risk of misinterpretation by federal agencies,” Tipton said in a news release. “We are now able to move forward a version of the bill that has the best chance of advancing through both the House and Senate. The agreed-upon language we have today ensures the community’s original goals remain intact, including wilderness protections and multiple use access for existing activities like grazing and snowmobiling in designated areas.”

 While the act seems to have navigated the rough waters of committee, the vast expanse of full Senate or House approval awaits. And with the 113th lame duck congress ready to check out for the year, those waters are murky.

“Even if it’s approved, the bill will need some kind of vehicle to pass,” said Buickerood. “There are a number of appropriation bills that need to be approved before the year ends where it could be a possible rider.”

If time runs out, it’ll be up to the 114th to reintroduce the bill. The good news is that two of its original sponsors, Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Tipton, are returning after the New Year. The bad news: it could be an uphill battle in a predominantly Republican congress.

But the real loser could be winter motor sports in the popular Molas Pass area. If the bill isn’t passed, the reprieve snowmobilers received for the 2014-15 winter would expire for the 2015-16 season.

“Molas Pass is an important riding area and a large economic driver for the winter economy of the town of Silverton,” Scott Jones, vice president of the Colorado Snowmobile Association, said. “These riding opportunities and important economic benefits would be lost without this legislation.”

Cancer in SW Colorado discussed

 The Life-Long Learning Lecture Series at Fort Lewis College tackles the thorny topic of cancer this Thursday as it presents “Cancer in Southwest Colorado: Statistics, Hereditary Cancer Syndromes, and Other Important Information You Need to Know.” The free, public lecture starts at 7 p.m. in Noble Hall, Room 130.

 The lecture will feature the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Randi Rycroft, who is current director of the Colorado Central Cancer Registry. Rycroft will discuss the registry, data collection methods and what services are available for the public. She will also talk about cancer rates in Southwest Colorado and how they compare to rest of the state and nation.

 Co-presenter will be Elena Strait, a genetic counselor who will discuss the difference between hereditary and sporadic cancers and review trends in genetic testing.

Planning commissioners sought

The La Plata County Board of County Commissioners is seeking a few god men and women to serve on the county Planning Commission. Planning commissioners act in an advisory role, offering recommendations on land-use issues to the county commissioners.

This position is advisory and is not monetarily compensated. However, reasonable mileage expenses will be reimbursed and a meal provided. Applicants must be county residents. For a more thorough job description, go to www.co.laplata.co.us or pick one up at the Information Desk at the La Plata County Courthouse, 1060 E. 2nd Ave. Applications are due Nov. 21. For info, call (970) 382-6219.

Missy Votel

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