The long road to wilderness begins here

  When U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D, introduced a new wilderness bill for western Colorado last month, there were loud cheers from the state's wilderness movement. The bill seeks to protect more than a dozen tracts of mostly redrock canyon country managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Now begins the uphill battle to get it through Congress.

"The last wilderness bill in Colorado took 10 years (to pass)," says Suzanne Johnson of the Wilderness Society in Denver. "We're hoping to beat that."

Critics lined up from the start to blast the 1.4 million-acre wilderness proposal. Western Colorado's Republican Rep. Scott McInnis opposes the bill, along with Republican Sens. Wayne Allard and Ben Nighthorse Campbell. Club 20, a coalition of industry and local government in western Colorado, says it will counter with its own 400,000-acre bill.

That's no surprise to environmentalists, who say they're prepared for the battle.

"The fact is, we're losing these areas," says Matt Sura of the Western Colorado Congress. "The sooner we begin talking about it, the more areas we can save."

Brian O'Donnell of the Wilderness Support Center in Durango, an office that networks with grassroots wilderness movements across the West, says more wilderness proposals are in the works in other Western states.

"I think that in at least the past few years everyone was engaged in defensive battles," O'Donnell says. "We basically had our worst enemies running the committees that have jurisdiction over wilderness."

*Dustin Solberg
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