Introducing a proposal to protect federal public lands

The Colorado Preservation Project


CPP is a systematic proposal for diverse preservation options for about 20 areas in Colorado.Bicycle Colorado and the International Mountain Bicycling Association paid Gary Sprung, by then a contractor no longer on IMBA staff, a small sum for the development of the proposal in 2006. But the two groups abandoned it, probably because it needs a grassroots campaign they could not muster.

It remains valid and a good example of the possibilities of a diverse preservation system. It still makes sense for the United States Congress and the President to pass this proposal as a public law.

Four Designation Types to Protect a Lot of Land

Our proposal adopts a somewhat new approach by using diverse legal designation types. The proposal employs four types of designations: Wilderness areas, National Protection Area, National Conservation Area, and Wildlife Protection Area. We have considered the geography, ecology, and human uses of these areas and have chosen a legal designation appropriate for each place. These diverse laws, which some call the “toolkit” approach to protecting public lands, will assist the preservation of public lands because diversity brings strength. We call this proposal the Colorado Preservation Project.

Congress’ toolkit already includes Wilderness areas, National Parks, National Monuments, Wild and Scenic Rivers, and more. Of the four types in our proposal, only the Wildlife Protection Area concept is entirely new. The term “National Conservation Area” has become routine on Bureau of Land Management lands around the West. Congress has previously used the term “Protection Area” and has enacted several laws very similar to what is proposed here. The Colorado Preservation Project uses language from these previous Acts, with changes and additions to better protect the lands and more clearly state the terms, conditions and meanings in this proposed law.

Protection of lands necessarily means limits on human activities. These four plans propose various restrictions to address different preservation needs. For example, Wildlife Protection Areas limit the number of people visiting a place to give priority to wildlife. National Protection Areas and Wilderness ban almost all logging to ensure that significant amounts of land are left natural. Wilderness bans bicycling to provide a certain kind of human experience.

On many areas of public land, bicyclists are the majority user and we care about protecting natural places. We want to be a positive, constructive, creative force in that direction. Many of these lands are at risk today and unfortunately progress toward preservation has been too slow. This proposal can build and reinforce conservation values and activism within many constituencies, while uniting recreation and conservation groups. The toolkit approach can protect more lands, more quickly.

This Colorado Protection Project includes a selection of places that we believe are ready for Congressional action. There are many more acres in Colorado deserving high levels of protection that this proposal does yet not address. We remain open to consideration of Congressional protections for lands not included here.

We invite your comments on this proposal. We need to know how it may affect particular uses, whether our proposed boundaries make sense, what resources are at stake. Although we are extremely familiar with some of the places, we cannot claim that for all of them. So we aim to engage in dialog to learn more. We also are open to suggestions for additional areas worthy of protection. Meanwhile, we do ask our senators and representatives in Congress to strongly consider this proposal for enactment into public law.

Explanation Of The Designations

The following short descriptions of the Colorado Protection Project designation types discuss the land use restrictions each type entails and their meaning for the land and people. Please also see the proposed legislation that accompanies this introduction.

Wildlife Protection Areas

The CPP proposal for Wildlife Protection Areas is simple and introduces an idea probably new in both law and regulation on federal lands. Congress would tell the managing agencies to enact numerical limits on the numbers of people allowed at one time in each Wildlife Protection Area and it would mandate that the agencies not discriminate among the forms of travel in assigning permits for visitation.

Two core ideas support this designation. The first is that all forms of human recreation cause deleterious effects to the land and in some places recreation can cause significant impacts, especially to wildlife behavior. Limiting the number of visitors limits the impacts.

The second key factor involves the hotly debated differences among recreation impacts. Differences exist, but scientific comparisons of those differences have been few. The science to make comparisons of wildlife impacts among recreation types is quite complex because of the diversity of species and the many different ways that various forms of recreation can affect wildlife. Public discussion of this issue has been based much less on fact and far more on personal preferences.

So the Wildlife Protection Area approach treats all recreation visitors as equal.

Agencies would use a permit system to enforce the limits. The law would authorize the agencies to charge a fee for the permits and the price would be no more than what is necessary to cover the agency’s cost of administering the limits.

The current CPP proposal would apply this limit only to three places in Colorado: the Cochetopa Hills, a wildlife migration corridor in the southeastern Gunnison Basin; Sheep Mountain west of Longmont, Colorado, a  place high in wildlife values; and the pristine Sewemup Mesa in Colorado’s far western redrock lands.

Wildlife Protection Areas can overlap or overlay other designations. Provisions in the other areas apply as they would with or without the Wildlife Protection Area overlay. This proposal’s Wildlife Protection Areas boundaries are the same as the underlying designations – a National Conservation Area for Cochetopa Hills, a National Protection Area for Sheep Mountain, and a Wilderness area for Sewemup Mesa.

National Protection Areas

National Protection Areas provide strong protections for public lands. Legislative language in the proposal would prohibit mining, logging, road building, erection of structures including dams and buildings, and motorized travel in National Protection Areas. The guiding principle in National Protection Areas is to allow Nature’s processes to continue uninterrupted and minimally influenced by human activities.

NPAs offer people muscle-powered experiences of wild, undeveloped lands. They have extensive, narrow, singletrack trails through pristine places. They take people away from the hubbub of modern life, away from roads and motor vehicles.

Although great for responsible recreation, the legislative language of National Protection Areas focuses more on protecting the land, less on the people using it.

Congress has already created two “Protection Areas” in Grand County, Colorado, and has enacted laws for other places that are quite similar, such as the Fossil Ridge Recreation Management Area in Gunnison County, Colorado; the Kelly Butte Special Management Area in Washington, and the Mt. Pleasant Scenic Area in Virginia. The legislation proposed here draws on those previous acts to ensure a high level of protection.

National Conservation Areas

NCAs enact the bottom-line of land preservation by banning mining, oil and gas development, road-building, and erection of man-made structures such dams and buildings. They also prohibit large-scale, industrial-style logging operations. NCAs also allow proactive management with a purpose of ecological restoration.

Like national parks, NCA’s, include roads. They go beyond national parks by imposing legislative prohibitions on the construction of new roads.

NCAs are necessary because they can protect and restore lands where some previous development has occurred. The designation extends conservation into human-occupied lands instead of governing only the wild, “untrammeled” lands. NCA’s can protect far greater amounts of land than National Protection Areas or Wilderness. A good example can be seen in this proposal’s approach to protecting the Roan Plateau, a place subject to intense political controversy regarding oil and gas drilling. The Plateau has major roadways through its center. A National Conservation Area that includes these roads could also protect the land from the drilling. In contrast, a Wilderness proposal on file for Roan Plateau would try to exclude the roads by drawing “cherry stems” in a complex, politically impossible pattern.

Using a set of rules more flexible than National Protection Areas and Wilderness, NCAs facilitate careful, responsible human enjoyment of public lands. The NCA designation allows motorized travel and states in law that motorized must stay on designated routes.

The CPP proposal for National Conservation Areas builds on the past. Congress has designated more than a dozen National Conservation Areas on public lands of the BLM and numerous, similar National Recreation Areas on lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service. These designations have probably improved the ecological protections for those areas, but that depends to some extent on the good will of the agencies. Although some of the laws creating NCA’s and NRA’s have banned mining, none have prohibited in law the building of new roads. The CPP language would do exactly that. We think this would be an improvement over previous Congressional actions because it would better ensure the protection of wildlife and vegetation.

The CPP proposed law also tackles the complicated subject of timber harvest. It specifically excludes industrial-scale logging. These are not that lands suitable for the supplying the timber needs of America. But the proposal allows small-scale, stewardship logging to address ecological needs. It uses language from previous acts of Congress to try to define a line between what is legally permissible and prohibited.


Wilderness Areas are one form of protection designation commonly used on federal lands. Congress has designated more than 105 million acres of federal public lands nationwide using this tool. As of Jan. 1, 2007, Congress has designated 3,384,294 acres of Wilderness in Colorado.

Wilderness, like National Protection Areas, bans mining, road building, erection of structures, and logging for any purpose other than fire emergencies. The basic principle active in both types of place is to “leave it alone.” Congress declared in the Wilderness Act of 1964 that a Wilderness is “…an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions.”

In contrast to National Protection Areas, the Wilderness Act also specifies a type of human experience that should occur there. A Wilderness should be a place for learning. It should “contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value.” Is should also offer “outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation.”

Since the early 1980s, federal land managers and wilderness activists have interpreted the meaning of “primitive and unconfined recreation” to allow sophisticated outdoor equipment such as mountaineering skis with high-tech, mechanical bindings, rafts made of super-tough rubber, and climbing gear made of highly refined metals. But, they say, the Wilderness Act prohibits bicycling. Whether or not that was the intent of Congress is highly debatable.

There are some people in our society who wish to hike and not ever see bicyclists on the trail. The National Wilderness Preservation System now provides a large resource of land for that experience. The Colorado Preservation Project proposes to designate additional Wilderness areas that will not harm bicycling opportunities.

The concept of wilderness is a key part of a heritage of grand and noble environmental ideas that have improved our relationships with our host planet. The proponents of the Colorado Preservation Project support that preservation idea and wish to make it more widely appreciated and applicable to much more land. We suggest that the toolkit approach is a natural evolution of the principle of preservation. We hope you will agree and will support the Colorado Preservation Project.