Washington D.C.--Sportsmen are rallying around an effort that would protect thousands of acres of fishing, hunting and recreation in the Browns Canyon of the Arkansas River in central Colorado.
On Thursday, U.S. Sen. Mark Udall introduced legislation that would protect 22,000 acres of Browns Canyon between Salida and Buena Vista in Chaffee County. Of that 22,000, 10,500 acres would be new wilderness, which would secure the highly popular rafting area in the canyon, as well as ensure the canyon remains just like it is now for coming generations of anglers, hunters and boaters.
“Protecting Browns Canyon will ensure excellent fishing opportunities for our children and grandchildren on a spectacular portion of the Arkansas River while helping to protect the river's excellent water quality. This proposal is all about keeping the area just as it is,” said Reed Dils, Trout Unlimited member, angler and retired river and fishing outfitter. “We don’t need to complicate things. Places like Browns Canyon not only belong to our current generation but to subsequent generations. This maintains all the current uses--hunting, angling, motorized routes, recreation--not to mention the economy supported by those values.”
The Arkansas River is a prized brown trout fishery, and Browns Canyon is one of few true wilderness fishing destinations left on the river today. This stretch of river runs well away from U.S. Highway 285, and is noted for its great whitewater rafting, as well as quality angling for wild trout. The area at large boasts a wide diversity in landscape, from Ponderosa forests to higher elevation aspen stands, and is home to an array of species such as bobcat, mountain lions, fox, elk, turkey, bighorn sheep, waterfowl, mule deer, and black bear.
“Browns Canyon epitomizes Colorado's unique quality of life to many Coloradoans who fish, hunt, hike, or view wildlife,” said Suzanne O’Neill of the Colorado Wildlife Federation. “We appreciate that Senator Udall gathered extensive public input before drafting this important legislation to protect Browns for future generations.”
Beyond that, the economic impacts of places like Browns Canyon are no secret. In 2011, 1.85 million people, or 47 percent of the state’s population participated in wildlife-associated recreation in Colorado and out of state. In Colorado alone, hunters and anglers support almost 19,000 jobs.
"This is something that has to happen, one way or another. I've been advocating for protection of this beautiful backcountry habitat since the early 70's,” said Salida resident, Bill Sustrich, life member of both Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and the NRA. “I've watched the proposed area for protection go from 100,000 acres to just over 20,000. There has been plenty of compromise over the years and now is the time to ensure that the incredible fish and game resources on this wild landscape are secured."
The national monument designation came from the ground up by local stakeholders from all across the political spectrum, and it’s been in the works for over a decade.
“Our members wear many hats, and not just as anglers. Sure, they fish, but they also hunt, bike, and camp,” said Sinjin Eberle, president of Colorado Trout Unlimited. “They run whitewater and wear out their fair share of hiking boots on our state’s trails. Browns Canyon is a gem because it provides all of these opportunities to so many people. Why wouldn't we want to protect something this special forever? As sportsmen, we feel this is a good compromise for all users."
Most of all, says John Gale, regional representative of the National Wildlife Federation, this place is simply something to behold - something to be valued - no matter what your affiliation.
“Brown’s Canyon is a unique and remarkable feature of the Arkansas River valley. The jagged canyon walls that define its powerful topography give way to the gin clear trout waters at the bottom where devoted anglers can be rewarded with the catch of a lifetime,” he said. “The big game country that undulates across the canyon’s east flank provides critical winter range for elk, mule deer, and bighorn sheep. These are the iconic landscapes that characterize our Western heritage and sporting traditions. We are compelled, as responsible stewards, to pass down this public lands inheritance to future generations who demand its values remain unspoiled.”