He lost a tough, key race to rising Republican media darling Cory Gardner, but Mark Udall still has some unfinished business before giving up his U.S. Senate seat in a few weeks. And at the top of the list is Udall's push for passage of S. 1794, his bill to designate Browns Canyon as a national monument -- or finagle some executive action in its stead.
A rugged mix of granite cliffs, forests and meadows flanking the Arkansas River between Buena Vista and Salida, Browns Canyon is rich in wildlife, including bighorn sheep, black bears and mountain lions -- and a place of solace, recreation and opportunity for hikers, anglers, outfitters, hunters and local tourism. Udall's bill would preserve historic uses while protecting the area from new roads and the incursion of mining interests.
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Locals have been seeking monument designation for 22,000 acres of the canyon country, with its sweeping views of the Collegiate Peaks and the Arkansas Valley, since the early 1990s. But bipartisan efforts to get the job done, including a 2006 bill that had the support of the entire Colorado congressional delegation, have been mired in the kind of Washington gridlock that's been a frequent topic of discussion in the latest election cycle -- and something that Senator-elect Gardner has vowed to somehow untangle.
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Udall, of course, can't wait around for the new era of GOP consensus-building. Championing wild and natural areas has been a tradition in the Udall family -- notably with Mark's dad, Mo (U.S. Representative, 1961-1991) and Uncle Stewart (Secretary of the Interior, 1961-69) -- and saving Browns would, perhaps, make the senator's abrupt heave-ho a bit easier to take. He and Senator Michael Bennett recently fired off a joint letter to President Obama, urging executive intervention to achieve what the stalled bill hasn't been able to accomplish -- and inviting unspecified "administration officials" to come to Chaffee County and see the marvels of the canyon for themselves.
Udall and Bennett are also hosting a public meeting this Saturday in Salida, with the aim of giving some senior officials -- U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell and Bureau of Land Management Deputy Director Steve Ellis -- an earful of locals' hopes and dreams for the future of Browns Canyon. The meeting is set for December 6, from 1-3 p.m., at the SteamPlant Theater, 220 W. Sackett Avenue in Salida. Look for Udall to be quite vocal as an interested local himself -- a son of the West in his final days in office, seeking a legacy that will span generations.