WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources approved the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act with language that more faithfully follows the original language in the bill developed by community stakeholders.
The Senate amendment clarified language in the House version that Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, reintroduced in late September. The measure will grant a special protective status for more than 100,000 acres.
The bill passed without opposition in the committee, along with 11 other bills, and now goes to the full Senate.
According to Sen. Mark Udall, changes included in the amendment represent the work and support of Southwest Colorado, including environmental groups, local leaders and motorized recreational sports interest groups.
“This is a truly homegrown Colorado bill,” Udall said during the hearing, “It enjoys wide and bipartisan support, and I look forward to it becoming law.”
Sens. Michael Bennet and Udall co-sponsored the bill and made it a priority this term.
“All of the key community stakeholders were involved in the bill that passed today, including local governments, snowmobilers, wilderness enthusiasts, and property owners,” Bennet’s depute press secretary, Philip Clelland, wrote in an email.
The House version included amended language that supported snowmobilers and the use of motorized vehicles. Those changes alarmed environmental groups.
Before the hearing, the Senate’s bill was made available to community stakeholders. Local sponsors recognized efforts Tipton made to redress their complaints by working with Bennet.
“Senator Bennet and Representative Tipton worked out the language of the Senate version we saw today,” said Ty Churchwell, backcountry coordinator for Trout Unlimited. The group expressed disapproval of changes made in the House version in September.
The Senate version more closely aligns with language created by the Hermosa Creek Workgroup, a group of community stakeholders who worked to forge a bill diverse users could support.
Jimbo Buickerood, public lands coordinator at with the San Juan Citizens Alliance, is optimistic the bill can pass quickly.
“There were numerous land bills passed forward today,” Buickerood said. “We’re just trusting that there’s enough support to move it forward in this session.”