At the core of the Hermosa Creek Protection Act flows Hermosa Creek, a tributary of the Animas River and the source of Durango’s drinking water. The area is a popular destination for outdoor recreation enthusiasts because of its breathtaking scenery and close proximity to the City of Durango and the Animas River Valley.
After four years of community discussion and negotiation, companion legislation to permanently protect the Hermosa Creek watershed in Colorado was introduced last year by Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Representative Scott Tipton (R-CO).
Hermosa Creek is one of Colorado’s largest unprotected landscapes, and is revered for its clean water, wildlife habitat, and multi-use recreational opportunities including mountain biking, hunting, hiking, and fishing. The Act is based on the recommendations of the Hermosa Creek Workgroup, a community based, collaborative group that formed to discuss options for protecting the area, and to ensure that all local stakeholder concerns were addressed. The final agreement is designed to work for all the stakeholders.
Tipton has touted the bill’s widespread grassroots support, and its balanced approach to land use designations.
“Recreation, preservation, access and job creation are all important aspects of the multiple use management for which these lands are truly intended,” he said at the March 6 Congressional subcommittee hearing. “I’m a firm believer that land use designations should be driven with a balance of local initiative and consideration that public lands belong to all Americans. Such is the case with Hermosa Creek Watershed, where I have worked with local citizens and groups and Senator Michael Bennet to put forward a plan to permanently protect the area while maintaining access and multiple use of the land.”
In accordance with the Wilderness Act of 1964, no roads or mineral development would be permitted in the newly designated wilderness area, but the bill contains provisions that allow for land management as necessary to control wildfires, insect infestations, and disease outbreaks.
The special management area designated in the bill would remain open to all historic uses of the forest, including mountain biking, motorized recreation, and selective timber harvesting. Grazing would continue to be allowed in the entire watershed, but per the request of the Durango City Council and La Plata County Commission. The bill would prohibit future federal mineral leasing on Animas Mountain, Perins Peak, Ridges Basin and Horse Gulch.
H.R. 1839 received a favorable subcommittee hearing on March 6, and is currently in the House Natural Resources Committee awaiting full mark-up.
- Designate close to 108,000 acres of public land northwest of Durango
- 68,289 acres would receive a special management protection, allowing mountain bike and motorized use to continue, but would prohibit new roads
- 37,236 acres would be designated as wilderness, the gold standard of land protection
- 13,086 acres around Durango, including Perins Peak, Animas City Mountain, Horse Gulch and Lake Nighthorse would be protected through a mineral withdrawal
- 461 acres of the 1,200 acres West Needles Contiguous wilderness study area would be released to allow historic snowmobile use
- 98% of the watershed will be withdrawn from mineral entry, ensuring clean drinking water for the city of Durango
- 111 BLM acres southeast of town will be conveyed to La Plata county for recreational facilities
- Protects one of the few pure strains of native cutthroat trout
We need to demonstrate public support throughout the process to get this bill across the finish line and to the President’s desk to be signed into law. Several hurdles remain, including critical floor votes in the House and Senate.
Thank Representative Scott Tipton and Senator Michael Bennet for introducing the Hermosa Creek Protection Act. Tell them:
The Hermosa Creek process is a tremendous example of community collaboration and the legislation deserves to make it to the President’s desk intact. Thank you for protecting important landscapes in Western Colorado.