Hermosa Creek bill is a big deal

The Hermosa Creek Watershed, as seen from the south, would be protected by a bipartisan measure pending in Congress. Enlargephoto

Megan Graham/Durango Herald

The Hermosa Creek Watershed, as seen from the south, would be protected by a bipartisan measure pending in Congress.

For a decade or more, earlier in my adulthood, I had a debilitating fear of flying. Any impending plane trip triggered a weeks-long panic fest in anticipation, followed by outright meltdowns on the dreaded travel day. This was not much fun for me, and no picnic for my travel companions.

Given this pattern – which, thankfully has waned with age – it is a bit of a mystery as to why I said “yes” without hesitation when invited on a tiny-plane flyover of the Hermosa Creek watershed last month.

It was too late once the fear set in, and headsets were in place as we taxied toward takeoff. Good thing, too. That way I could hear my good friend Jeff Widen, associate director at The Wilderness Society, helpfully remind me that takeoff is a critical time in which crashing can occur. Jerk. Anyway, off we went, heading north at a relatively low altitude toward our destination.

The landscape along the way was familiar, of course, as was that of the Hermosa Creek watershed. Nevertheless, the flight brought into stark perspective just how vast the drainage is – and, correspondingly, how significant the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act is. The 108,000-acre bill, which is pending in Congress, extends three levels of protection to the watershed, extending north just past the town of Hermosa all the way to the north and west of Durango Mountain Resort. That is big. Huge! And it may seem obvious – it should have to me, as I have long been an advocate of the Hermosa Creek bill and, in a previous professional life, spent quite a bit of time working on what would become its contents. But it wasn’t until seeing the drainage from the air that I fully realized its scope, geographically and politically.

I mean, from Hermosa to Purgatory is a long way! And so was the path the bill has traveled to its current state, where it enjoys bipartisan support – Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Rep. Scoot Tipton, R-Cortez, are its respective sponsors in the Senate and House – for a comprehensive protection package that includes 37,236 acres of wilderness, a 68,289-acre special management area that allows for some logging and other historic uses, and a 43,228-acre “area” where mountain biking and other recreational activities are permitted, but no new roads can be built. The net intended result of this triumvirate is to “help ensure the economic prosperity of local communities in the area that depend on the watershed for water supplies, recreation, hunting, fishing, hiking, biking, camping and related winter-activities, off-road vehicle for travel for the conduct of scientific activities, scientific research, mineral extraction and sustainable resource development,” the bill says.

It does so with the support of a broad spectrum of diverse interests who share a love for the Hermosa Creek drainage and all the resources – recreational, environmental and otherwise – it contains. That is a rarity. More so is the political unity that support has engendered in Washington, D.C.

The measure also contains important protections outside the Hermosa Creek watershed in the form of mineral withdrawal language for 13,086 acres spread across Perins Peak, Animas City Mountain, Horse Gulch and Lake Nighthorse. By withdrawing these areas from mineral development, the pristine landscapes that form Durango’s boundaries will remain unmarred. As with the Hermosa Creek watershed, the importance of those closer-in landmarks was reinforced by an aerial view.

The Hermosa Creek bill, which passed unanimously out of the Senate Public Lands, Forests and Mining subcommittee in November after testimony from Bennet and Tipton, is indeed significant. Turned stomach and flight anxiety aside.

Megan Graham is a Herald editorial writer and policy analyst. Reach her at meg@durangoherald.com.

The Hermosa Creek Watershed, as seen from the East Enlargephoto

The Hermosa Creek Watershed, as seen from the East

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