Proposed Wilderness Expansion in Colorado
At the end of June I met up with Lighthawk volunteer pilot Jim Grady for a morning of still photographs over Colorado’s Western Slope. Our flight goals were to create still images of proposed wilderness expansion and special management areas included in US Senator Mark Udall’s Central Mountains Outdoor Heritage Act as well as create still images of the impacts historic insect infestations have had on these proposed wilderness expansion areas for The Lodgepole Project. It was good to be flying with Jim again who I first met last summer on a Lighthawk flight for The Lodgepole Project. After a quick refresher on flying in his red and white ’53 Cessna 180 that looks like a ’53 Corvette with wings, we picked up where we’d left off talking about conservation, past projects and the Land Ethic.
We began our trip with a loop around Castle Peak just to the northeast of the Eagle County Airport. The turrets of Castle Peak are a dominant feature of the Eagle River Valley. Sadly but not unexpectedly all the lodgepoles were dead displaying grey phase of infestation. We pushed further west along the course of the Colorado River until Jim pointed out the Book Cliffs and the La Sals way out on the horizon. I squinted out toward Mount Tukuhnikivatz and Edward Abbey Country high above the Colorado and the fracking fields of the Western Slope contemplating existence from a plane on the edge of the desert.
Making an about face we turned toward Mount Sopris with the Hay Park and East Hay Park Wilderness Expansion Areas surrounding this well loved landmark of the Roaring Fork Valley. In the Central Mountains of Colorado, citizens have worked tirelessly for years to expand areas they feel need wilderness designation. Thanks to these people, Congressman Jared Polis and Senator Mark Udall are introducing wilderness bills that include their suggested areas.
Udall’s wilderness proposal incorporates 235,773 acres, 12 new stand alone areas and 17 additions to existing wilderness areas in Pitkin, Eagle and Summit counties including the Holy Cross, the Eagles Nest and the Maroon Bells. The proposed wilderness areas were chosen after a comprehensive evaluation of their ecological values that contain vital wildlife habitat, free flowing streams, pristine lakes and old growth forests like those in the proposed wilderness expansion area called Hunter and the adjacent Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness.
Many of the forests included in the proposed wilderness areas have been or are currently being impacted by historic epidemics of native insect infestations and disease as a result of human generated climate change. The unprecedented loss of these forests are having cascading impacts on the biodiversity of the ecosystems. Without wilderness designation, these impacted forests are currently open to logging operations for marketable timber and mining operations.
Learn more about Senator Udall’s Central Mountains Outdoor Heritage Act as well as Congressman Jared Polis’ Rocky Mountain Recreation and Wilderness Preservation Act. If you’re a Coloradan, your participation in this November’s election is critical in the fight to protect these vulnerable areas. Click here to submit a comment to Senator Udall and to Courtney Krause in the Washington office or Nissa Erickson in the Frisco office for Congressman Polis.
A very special thank you to Lighthawk and Lighthawk volunteer pilot Jim Grady for their help creating aerial photographs of the proposed wilderness expansion areas as well as White River Wild for their invaluable information and support.