Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Hermosa Creek workgroup releases draft of management proposal

I had the chance to attend the Hermosa Creek Workgroup meeting last night, where a draft of the management proposal for the watershed was presented and discussed.

I thought the group was smart and cooperative and well-informed (guided by three mandates: defining "truth" as that which is supported by facts and data, transparency, and consensus). It also contained perhaps the greatest concentration of grey ponytails -- both female and male -- I'd ever seen in one room. Good folks.

The workgroup is an 18-month-old citizen group spun out of a regional initiative called the River Protection Workgroup, formed in 2005 by the San Juan Citizens Alliance and the Southwestern Water Conservation District. A broad and diverse coalition of groups are participating in the group, working under a consensus model.

The workgroup is looking at protections options in the Hermosa Creek drainage, northwest of Durango. Hermosa Creek contains the largest block of roadless land managed by the Forest Service in Colorado, and contains populations of genetically pure Colorado River Cutthroat trout.The group's consensual state of values of the region states:
The Hermosa Creek Area is exceptional because it is a large intact (unfragmented) natural watershed containing diverse ecosystems, including fish, plants and wildlife, over a broad elevation range, and supports a variety of multiple uses, including recreation and grazing, in the vicinity of a large town.
At this point, the group is focusing on generating a land-management proposal, and is holding off addressing issues related directly to water or the creek itself until workgroups complete looks at all the watersheds in the southern San Juans, since water development is best served by a basin-wide perspective.

Here's the core of what I got from the proposal:
  • Creation of a 100,000-acre Special Management Area. This management plan would be written later, with ample opportunity for public input
  • Creation of a 50,000 wilderness area, and on the west side of the creek
  • The 163,000-acre Hermosa Roadless Area will be kept roadless
  • Multiple uses-- from recreation to outfitting to grazing -- will be allowed where presently allowed (with barring mechanized vehicles in the Wilderness Area)
Here are the few "rubs," as they were called, that are still yet to be hammered out about the plan:
  • Wilderness area boundary. In particular, how close to the creek should the boundary should run. Proposals range from at the creek's edge (or center, or floodplain ...) to up to a quarter-mile set back to keep the potential for future water development.
  • What to do about areas with minerals and mineral claims that lie on the edge of the Wilderness boundaries.
  • What to do about a SWSI -- Statewide Water Supply Initiative -- site in the valley. These sites are identified by the state as potential dam and diversion sites, although there is no legally-binding protection, water rights, or set-asides for these areas. Given that, the question is whether or not to keep that area in or out of protected areas (especially since roads for a dam site would cut into the present Roadless Area).
That's a major nutshell of what is a detailed proposal from a long, involved drafting process. But it gives a sense of what's going on.

See photos of the Hermosa Creek drainage here.

Get involved: the Hermosa Creek Workgroup meets monthly. Learn more here.

Also, workgroups for other southern San Juan watersheds will be launched in upcoming months, beginning with a group for the San Juan in January.

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