Another try for wilderness


Browns Canyon in central Colorado is again getting promoted for wilderness designation. It was one of 18 areas in nine Western states identified in a recent report by the federal Bureau of Land Management with "significant local support for Congressional protection." 

The area sits six miles south of Buena Vista, and even if it's called Brown's Canyon, the wilderness designation would not include the canyon floor, since the Arkansas River there is flanked by human structures, like railroad tracks and irrigation ditches.
Indeed, when the area was first studied for wilderness designation more than 30 years ago, it was called Aspen Ridge. However, Browns Canyon is one of the most popular whitewater rafting trips in America, and river outfitters like to market "wilderness trips" even if they're not actually in a wilderness area, just in sight of one.
The current proposal is for 6,614 acres on the east side of the river which includes "striking red hoodoos, dramatic gulches and abundant wildlife" with wintering grounds for deer, elk and bighorn sheep.
 It might be the wildlife that derailed wilderness designation in 2005-06. Joel Hefley, a Colorado Springs Republican who then represented that area, introduced a bill to protect 20,000 acres, and Sen. Wayne Allard, a Colorado Republican, sponsored it in the Senate.
Although there was some grumbling that the area had too many rough back roads and prospect holes to qualify as wilderness. there was considerable local support.
The stars appeared to be aligned until the National Rifle Association weighed in -- in opposition. Hunting is allowed in wilderness areas, so designation would not have affected anyone's Second Amendment rights.
But the NRA said it was concerned about access for elderly hunters. and further, "without roads in the area, it would make it nearly impossible to pack out big game." Apparently the NRA has never heard of pack horses or mules.
Since most Western politicians would endorse the Taliban before they'd cross the NRA, the 2005 effort died. Maybe this time around, the NRA will stick to its guns, so there will be more protected habitat and thus more game to hunt for its members.

Essays in the Range blog are not written by High Country News. The authors are solely responsible for the content.

Ed Quillen is a freelance writer in Salida, Colo.


High Country News Classifieds