Bennet Seeks Input on Dolores River National Conservation Area Proposal

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Bennet to Introduce Legislation Following 45-Day Comment Period

Submit Feedback at Bennet.Senate.Gov/DoloresRiverProposal

Washington, D.C. –– Today, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet announced he is seeking input on draft legislation to designate a National Conservation Area (NCA) for a portion of the Dolores River Canyon within Dolores and San Miguel Counties.

“After years of collaboration with local leaders in Southwest Colorado, I’m pleased to announce this proposal to protect a portion of the Dolores River Canyon,” said Bennet. “This bill was requested by a bipartisan coalition of interests, including Dolores and San Miguel Counties, who share an interest in protecting the area’s recreational and agricultural value as well as its natural resources. With this proposal, they are aiming for the type of balanced approach to the management of our public lands that we strive for in Colorado. I look forward to gathering more feedback in the weeks ahead so that we can move forward with a bill in the Senate.”

The legislation follows two decades of local discussion and collaboration on the Dolores River and comes at the request of Dolores and San Miguel Counties in Southwest Colorado. Bennet invites input and welcomes Coloradans’ thoughts and suggestions to improve the bill during an initial 45-day comment period.

The deadline to submit input is October 28, 2021. The form and additional information about the discussion draft is available HERE.

After reviewing the input, Bennet intends to introduce the legislation in the U.S. Senate.

“Since the Dolores River became suitable and eligible for Wild and Scenic designation Dolores County has worked diligently with citizens, stakeholders, Montezuma, San Miguel and Montrose counties to establish a legislative process to keep the Dolores River in local control. This bipartisan grassroots efforts have been made possible by the willingness of Senator Bennet’s office to carry this bill. The Dolores River is a beautiful geological area full of scenery, wildlife, natural resources, recreation, whitewater boating, cultural, archaeological, important watershed and scientific resources that need conserved and protected. We are grateful to San Miguel County for their continued support and efforts in the collaboration of this two-county bill. We look forward to working with all counties involved in this National Conservation Area Proposal,” said the Dolores County Commission.

“On behalf of San Miguel County, it has been an honor to work with our colleagues in Dolores County and regional stakeholders to create a locally-driven designation for the Dolores River corridor. We are grateful to Senator Bennet for being responsive to the request from our counties and supportive of local and bipartisan collaborations. As we collectively face the challenge of drought and reduced water, we must work together to protect the shared Dolores watershed and local economies that depend on it. We will continue to support this bill and we look forward to working with our regional colleagues to address the challenges we face together,” said Hilary Cooper, San Miguel County Commissioner.

"We are excited for this important step toward protecting conservation and recreation values of the Dolores River corridor. We are thankful for the leadership of Dolores and San Miguel Counties, and for Senator Bennet’s willingness to support this effort. The river is beloved by people from all walks of life, for many reasons. For more than a decade, diverse stakeholders have worked together, found common ground, and created a sensible proposal that balances various interests. There is still a lot of work to do moving forward, and to that end we look forward to continuing to collaborate with other stakeholders and supporting this proposed legislation as it moves towards introduction and passage,” said Amber Clark, Executive Director, Dolores River Boating Advocates.

“This process on the Dolores River started taking shape with the government to government roundtable that started in 2005 to discuss our concerns with a possible Wild and Scenic designation on the Dolores River, which would be an overreaching designation that would not protect our values and rights. After those conversations the Dolores River Working Group decided we could do something to protect the Dolores River Canyon and keep management of the Dolores River in local control. We wanted a designation that was more balanced than Wild and Scenic that would protect private property, agriculture, all existing rights including water rights, energy development, livestock grazing and private property access. Through working on this process we have been able to learn better management of our water releases from McPhee Reservoir, in order to provide better management of the fish in the Dolores River so that they do not end up as endangered and cause us to lose local control of water use in our community. We feel this proposed NCA legislation is the best way forward to accomplish these needs,” said Al Heaton, rancher and farmer in the proposed Dolores River National Conservation Area.

Background
In 2008 the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management requested that the Dolores River Dialogue –– a coalition of diverse interests in the region –– convene a broad-based community group, which became the Lower Dolores Plan Working Group to study pressing management issues in the Dolores River corridor from McPhee to Bedrock, including the possibility of a Wild and Scenic River designation. The working group, through consensus agreement, decided to explore the possibility of an NCA and appointed a Legislative Subcommittee, including counties, water managers, conservation groups, landowners, recreationists, energy companies, and staff from federal elected officials’ offices, to draft a legislative proposal for further vetting. Bennet’s NCA proposal is a result of this collaborative process.