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Know the West

Wilderness proposal or political ploy?

  Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo., surprised Congress and environmentalists in November when he introduced legislation to designate 49,800 acres of land in northwestern Colorado as the Red Table Mountain Wilderness. The bill included provisions for motorized recreation trails, helicopter training by the Colorado National Guard, and guaranteed water rights for the nearby town of Gypsum.

Richard Compton of the White River Conservation Project says the provisions are “totally unacceptable” and “don’t fit with wilderness values” — especially the proposal’s inclusion of a motorcycle trail that bisects the area.

McInnis introduced his bill when it was too late for Congress to consider it and just as redistricting this month will move the Red Table Mountain area out of his district and into that of Rep. Mark Udall, D.

Compton says the proposal is simply a political strategy in preparation for future battles over the land, which lies in the much fought-over White River National Forest (HCN, 1/17/00: The White River National Forest). “McInnis wants to make sure his concerns are noticed up front.”

McInnis, however maintains that his intentions are pure. “The congressman has represented the area for almost 20 years,” says McInnis’ press secretary, Blair Jones. “And he wanted to see it protected.”