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TU: Conservation nerds and the tale of Hermosa Creek

08/13/12 at 05:43 AM by Vince Puzick

This story recently appeared on Trout Unlimited's blog.  


Here at TU, we spend a lot of time talking about watersheds.


We conservation nerds can find the most befuddling things to occupy the hours of the day. But, much to the dismay of our poor, bored-to-tears spouses and significant others, this notion we love so much here – the idea of protecting quality, connected, large-scale chunks of habitat – is catching on.


And it’s a good thing, too.


Case in point: the community reaching out to preserve Hermosa Creek in Colorado.


Located just outside the town of Durango, Hermosa Creek is a completely intact watershed with exceptional recreation values. Think rugged 13,000 foot peaks, high alpine meadows, pine, fir and aspen forests, crystal clear water and you’ll start to get a sense of this place.


Home to a native Colorado River cutthroat trout reintroduction program and some of the finest elk habitat in Colorado, Hermosa Creek is a sportsmen’s paradise.  For OHV enthusiasts, mountain bikers, campers, hikers, photographers and backpackers, Hermosa Creek offers some of the best…and within just a few miles of a major community.


With this in mind, locals formed a working group, the River Protection Workgroup, which spent 22 months crafting a blueprint for future management of this little gem. This proposal was not built in a D.C. office, but instead as a function of local, stakeholder-driven collaborative.  Everyone had a seat at the table and the consensus recommendations reflect a broad group of interests.


With that blueprint in hand, Sen. Michael Bennet. introduced the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act of 2012. This legislation will maintain the quality of the habitat through a balance of protections and allowances to keep many things just as they are today. It’s the best of both worlds – sensitive habitat gets preserved and users still get to enjoy the landscape as they already do.


Just a few highlights:


  • About 108,000 acres of the San Juan National Forest will be designated as the Hermosa Creek Special Management area (SMA), meaning it will have more protection than any old chunk of National Forest. The key here are the boundaries, which are drawn to encompass the entire watershed – no whittling out small bits that later have to be put together like a some hackneyed puzzle where the pieces don’t quite fit together anymore. In this fantastically fantastic instance (can you tell how giddy we are about this?) we’re talking the WHOLE puzzle.
  • Of that acreage, some will receive more stringent protections, some less. For example, 25 percent of the area will allow current and historical uses such as mountain biking, motorized recreation, selected timber harvesting, grazing etc.
  • 40 percent of the acreage will allow those activities to take place, but will no longer be eligible for future building of roads or timber harvesting, meaning more land will be able to stay just as it is today.
  • All of the SMA, save for about 2,000 acres will be withdrawn from future mineral development.
  • The remaining 35 percent will be designated as wilderness.


Bottom line? This is common-sense approach from the people, for the people – a collective forward step by a community that will protect a special corner of their own backyard.


The genius behind this kind of legislation is that it takes the entire watershed into consideration, thereby taking into account a basic principle that we all too often forget: All things are connected. By taking the initiative to protect the entire watershed, this community is taking an innovative approach to conservation. You can’t protect one portion of habitat if you don’t protect the things connected to it – i.e. what good is protecting a fish if there is no water for that fish?


So next time you overhear one of those conservation nerds utter those buzz killing phrases – watershed…habitat…permanent protection…collaborative process…federally designated lands  - don’t glaze over. Throw them a bone. Listen with a content smile on your face and happy heart. They’re doing good things for you.

And little-by-little, it’s catching on. Just ask the folks over in Hermosa Creek.

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