The American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) has learned that within the next few weeks an anti-access group will present U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) with the Hidden Gems Wilderness Campaign, which would designate 379,000 acres of public land in Colorado as federal Wilderness. These new designations would be in addition to 3.5 million acres already protected as Wilderness in Colorado.
Because Polis is expected to introduce related legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives, the AMA is asking all motorcyclists and off-highway vehicle (OHV) enthusiasts to protest this latest effort to inappropriately designate public lands as Wilderness.
"The AMA has formally objected to the Hidden Gems Wilderness Campaign, citing the inappropriate nature of the affected lands," said AMA Vice President for Government Relations Ed Moreland. "In addition to the AMA, the Basalt Fire District opposes the measure, contending that the designation would thwart efforts to fight fires."
The Hidden Gems Wilderness Campaign is designed to prohibit nearly all forms of non-pedestrian recreation on public land in the White River and Gunnison National Forests, such as the Flattops, Basalt Mountain, Red Tables, Thompson Creek and other areas. Included are many areas that have existing trails and other improvements that do not meet the federal definition of wild areas established by the Wilderness Act of 1964.
"We want AMA members, OHV users, recreationists and the general public to understand that this is the work of a single, powerful special interest group that is trying to act as a gatekeeper for public policy in Colorado," said Moreland. "Of particular significance are concerns expressed by firefighters over acquiring waivers to fight fires on land designated as Wilderness. This is especially troubling when those Wilderness areas are adjacent to communities.
"We need to protect public land for future generations, not from future generations, and that includes access for responsible OHV recreation," Moreland said. "The Hidden Gems Wilderness Campaign does not accomplish that goal."
The quickest and most effective way to contact your representative is to call. You can find contact information for your elected officials at AmericanMotorcyclist.com > Rights > Issues & Legislation. Enter your zip code in the "Find your Officials" box. A pre-written e-mail also is available to send to your representative by following the "Take Action" option and entering your information.
The direct link to the Issues & Legislation area of the AMA website isAmericanMotorcyclist.com/legisltn/rapidresponse.asp.
Wilderness designation is one of the strictest forms of public land management. Once Congress designates an area Wilderness, nearly all forms of non-pedestrian recreation are illegal. The National Wilderness Act of 1964 created Wilderness designations, which are designed to protect pristine, remote areas affected primarily by the forces of nature. In recent years, anti-access groups have abused Wilderness designations to force responsible off-highway recreationalists off public land well-suited to off-highway motorized recreation.
"The AMA supports appropriate Wilderness designations," Moreland said. "However, when those lands include roads, trails, power lines, dams, bridges and structures, they do not meet the clear definition of Wilderness. All recreationists must protest these unfair measures before responsible motorized access to public land is lost forever."
Last year, the Omnibus Public Land Management Act designated more than 2 million acres as Wilderness, and more bills have followed. Many of those proposals, such as the Hidden Gems Wilderness Campaign, would affect Colorado. They include H.R. 4289, the Colorado Wilderness Act of 2009, introduced by Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.). The bill will designate 34 areas totaling 850,000 acres as Wilderness, including 72,397 in Handies Peak, 20,025 in Browns Canyon and 38,594 at Redcloud Peak. H.R. 3914, the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act of 2009, introduced by Rep. John Salazar (D-Colo.), would inappropriately designate 44,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service (USFS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and private land as federally protected Wilderness.
"With 3.5 million acres of existing Wilderness, Colorado is already one of the most federally protected states in the nation, and it also is home to many of this country's OHV enthusiasts," Moreland said. "We need to keep OHV routes and legal trails in the state open, so this and future generations can continue to experience the sweeping vistas and rugged terrain that the state has to offer."