In a rare bipartisan kumbaya moment last week, the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act was reintroduced in the U.S. Senate, with a companion measure soon to follow in the House of Representatives. The bill, which is nearly five years in the making, would protect more than 100,000 acres of the Hermosa Creek watershed, for an array of uses and values that shape the area’s character. The widespread – and deep-rooted – local support for the measure is amplifying to Washington, D.C., where Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet, the measure’s sponsor, and Mark Udall, are joined by U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, who will sponsor the measure in the House.
The bill embodies the recommendations of the Hermosa Creek River Protection Workgroup, a collaborative consensus-based effort convened around a shared interest in the future of Hermosa Creek and the resources contained in the watershed. This group, which comprised conservationists, anglers, outfitters, horsemen, mountain bikers, miners, hunters, wildlife managers and water interests, among others, spent several years developing a common vision for Hermosa Creek. It was neither an easy nor an expeditious process, but it was thorough and inclusive and produced a consensus that all the participants could support. The result is the act now pending in Congress.
In it include three management levels, including 38,000 acres of new wilderness on the west side of Hermosa Creek, about 43,000 managed as road-free land open to mountain biking and other uses, and the remainder available for higher-impact activities including timber harvesting. This multi-prong approach to watershed management is one that can only result from patience and perseverance, as well as a willingness for all parties to make concessions. Bennet, Udall and Tipton are representing their constituents well in carrying this legislation. It is well-conceived, exhaustively vetted and will provide a legacy that each lawmaker – but, more importantly, the landscape and its inhabitants – can enjoy in perpetuity.
Hermosa Creek possesses the unique attribute of being pristine and accessible – characteristics that do not often exist in tandem. Finding a way to protect both of these is the fundamental value of the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act, and including wilderness is a critical component. Tipton, in particular, deserves kudos for carrying the measure, given his party’s typical response to the notion of the wilderness, which is that there is plenty already and any more is an attempt at stopping economic activity. With his support, Tipton shows that public-land protection need not be a partisan issue and balanced management approaches can ensure that all interests are represented. This is the best of lawmaking.
For all the groundwork that went into the measure, as well as the widespread support it enjoys, the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act is positioned for expeditious action in Congress. Its passage will be a landmark achievement for all who have dedicated themselves to the process and its outcome. Bennet, Udall and Tipton deserve great credit for recognizing that effort and for shepherding it into federal action.