Hermosa Creek- Model Place-Based Legislation?

This is from the Denver Post editorial board:

There is no small amount of satisfaction to be had in last month’s federal approval of a locally crafted protection measure for the lovely area of Southwest Colorado known as Hermosa Creek.

We feel the need to pinch ourselves in disbelief that Congress could have found a way to approve something so constructive, with bipartisan support.

The best part about the Hermosa Creek protection act was that it was the product of robust local participation and debate.

Mountain bikers, conservationists, anglers, business owners, grazing permit holders and others hashed out a detailed plan that required some compromise, but was predicated on common goals.


The plan was like a custom-tailored suit that should serve as a template for other communities around the nation looking to preserve and protect special areas.

It was heartening from a national standpoint as well. In recent years, Congress has gotten so polarized that it has had difficulty coming to agreement on any land protection bills. Just about the only way to address such matters was to look to the president to use his powers under the Antiquities Act to declare national monuments.

And as beneficial as that process can be, a consensus-driven effort with local support is far better.

That’s what Colorado got with the Hermosa measure, which protects more than 100,000 acres of the creek’s watershed in the San Juan National Forest, just north of Durango.

The bill designates more than 70,000 acres as a special management area, which maintains historic uses such as mountain biking and grazing.

Another 38,000 acres will be set aside as wilderness and managed in accordance with the Wilderness Act of 1964. Hunting and fishing are allowed, but roads and mineral development are not.

The attention to detail that went into this plan, its respect for various uses and the ability to compromise displayed by those who crafted the measure are admirable and should be emulated.

Maybe someone could investigate how the bill handles NEPA for grazing?

12 thoughts on “Hermosa Creek- Model Place-Based Legislation?”

  1. Sharon’s question “Maybe someone could investigate how the bill handles NEPA for grazing?” is full of unintended irony. Hermosa Creek became law only by being attached to the National Defense Authorization Act. The NDAA was a quid-pro-quo deal that has been discussed previously in this forum. Among the quids were nationwide changes to how federal land grazing is reviewed under NEPA. So there’s your answer, Sharon.

    Btw, when it comes to grazing within the Hermosa Creek areas designated as “special management” and “wilderness,” the regular (i.e., as modified by the NDAA) NEPA procedures apply.

  2. Gee. I agree with Andy on this one. McCain’s mining rider started an avalanche of log-rolling and a lot of stupid stuff that should have at least seen the light of day and roll-call votes — became law in the back room.
    I’d say the pluses and minuses were balanced, but on the other hand, they all cost money.

  3. OK… but the point is that local/state folks got together and picked some management scenarios and did a deal that is more or less binding… what is so wrong with that? Just that it was in an rider? So philosophically forest planning is a better approach? Because…..???

    Note – I don’t think a backroom with DOJ attorneys and plaintiffs is morally superior to a deal worked out in Colorado and legitimized through questionable Congressional practices.

    • The local/state folks had no say in the parameters of the overall legislative vehicle (the NDAA) to which their Hermosa Creek bill was attached. As far as I know, the Hermosa Creek local discussions never included changes in livestock grazing (in fact, the Hermosa Creek bill says grazing continues under existing law). The irony is that the bigger bill DOES change grazing rules writ large, including at Hermosa Creek, without any buy-off or say-so by your favorite “local/state folks.” You don’t find that even a little bit ironic?

  4. Sharon, I think your premise that “a backroom with DOJ attorneys and plaintiffs” would make forest plan land allocation decisions is pretty hypothetical. As we’ve discussed, settlements normally agree to procedural fixes and interim remedies until the procedures occur. Do you have a real-world forest planning example?

    I also think that agreements to protect existing uses are more likely when those uses are recreation and grazing than when they are logging and mining, so I’m not sure that ’emulation’ of this approach would be universally practical.

  5. I looked at the bill. Here’s the grazing part:
    (C) Grazing.–Grazing and other traditional
    economic activities are compatible with the Special
    Management Area designation and the Secretary shall
    permit grazing within the Special Management Area,
    where established before the date of enactment of this
    Act subject to all applicable laws (including
    regulations) and Executive orders.

    That’s the mountain-bike wilderness. Vegetation manage seems to be under the roadless rule framework:
    (i) New permanent or temporary road
    construction or the renovation of existing
    nonsystem roads, except as allowed under the
    final rule entitled “Special Areas; Roadless
    Area Conservation; Applicability to the
    National Forests in Colorado” (77 Fed. Reg.
    39576 (July 3, 2012)).
    (ii) Projects undertaken for the purpose of
    harvesting commercial timber (other than
    activities relating to the harvest of
    merchantable products that are byproducts of
    activities conducted for ecological restoration
    or to further the purposes described in this

    Less than a section of the Molas Divide was “released” from BLM 202/603 and moved to USFS, while another similar chunk went to the Weiminuche wilderness. So the sledders still have some access up there.

    THere’s also this:
    (k) Wildfire, Insect, and Disease Management.–Consistent with this
    section, the Secretary is authorized to take any measures that the
    Secretary determines to be necessary to manage wildland fire and treat
    hazardous fuels, insects, and diseases in the Special Management Area.
    The Secretary is further authorized to coordinate such measures with
    the appropriate State or local agency, should the Secretary determine
    such coordination to be necessary.

    So management is a Secretarial matter now, for the Ag sec.

    Grazing here seems to be less restricted than it is under the RMF act, which puts the “conservation management area” wilderness not very lite into 1964 Wilderness Act legal framing. So this is a better deal for grazers than it might have been with an M-Bomb tossed by Obama and eventual parkification under monument status.

    As for the 10 to 20 years change in permit review….good deal. Means grazers get hassled half as often, but probably twice as hard.

    • Somebody correct me if I’m wrong, but I think references to a “Secretary” in legislation do not normally remove the Secretary’s authority to delegate to agencies.

      • That’s what I think.. depending on the political volatility the Sec would probably tell the agency to do the policy work, and then “show their work” to some rep of the Secretary who would decide.

        • I’m suggesting they could delegate the decision making authority (about the coordination for sure, but also project decisions).

          • Yes, they could, but for example, remember “roadless projects” that had to be run up the Departmental flagpole? Like many things, the Sec can delegate or not depending on his or her proclivities and political calculus.

    • Thanks for looking this up, Dave! And I would bet the degree of hassle is not unrelated to what party is in power when the permits come up for renewal.


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