Commissioners endorse Special Management Area for the watershed
A plan to set aside some 150,000 acres in the Hermosa Creek drainage as a Special Management Area for the Forest Service was endorsed by the San Juan County commissioners last week in a unanimous vote.
It includes plans to establish a 50,000-acre wilderness area on the West Bank of the Hermosa.
The proposal was drafted by the Hermosa Creek Workgroup, which includes a number of stakeholders, including Steve Fearn, San Juan County’s representative to the Southwest Colorado Water Conservation District.
The process was started some two years ago as a joint effort between the SWCD and San Juan Citizens Alliance.
Fearn said the Hermosa Creek project is part of a broader effort to “look at what’s protected and what additional protections may be needed” for watersheds stretching from Hermosa to Wolf Creek Pass.
The workgroup is backing legislation to establish the Special Management Area. Fearn said it won’t change much on the ground in the remote drainage, which includes thousands of acres in southwest San Juan County.
“It’s consistent with the forest plan. We’re just tweaking it a little bit. We really don’t want it to change that much,” Fearn said. “We like it the way it is.”
And Fearn noted that some commercial uses in some areas of the drainage would still be allowed, including logging and mineral resource development.
Fearn said the Hermosa Creek Workgroup will seek an endorsement of the 26-page plan by the La Plata County commissioners soon, and legislation to actually establish the Special Management area is being drafted.
“We feel comfortable with it,” Fearn said. “It’s a good compromise.”
He said the process envisions revisiting the possibility of designating portions of Hermosa Creek as a wild and scenic river.
County Commissioner Pete McKay said he had confidence in the workgroup’s findings, considering that Fearn, “our water person” is supportive of it.
“I’m fine with it too,” said Commissioner Terry Rhoades. “A lot of work went into it, it sounds like.”
County Commissioner Ernie Kuhlman noted no loss in the county’s tax base will result from the Special Management Area being established.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Kuhlman said. He noted he “took a little flak” when the county commissioners last year supported the Sheep Mountain wilderness bill that included protection for the Ice Lakes Basin area.