San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act

Facts and Information


  • LATEST UPDATE: In January 2019, Colorado Senator Michael Bennet and Congressman Joe Neguse introduced the Colorado Outdoor Recreation & Economy (CORE) Act, which includes the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act along with three other public land protection bills.

  • HISTORICALLY: In April 2018, Senator Bennet introduced the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act (SJMWA), which protects nearly 60,000 acres in the heart of the San Juan Mountains.

    • Former Congressman John Salazar originally introduced SJMWA in 2009.

  • The SJMWA was developed collaboratively with local communities, businesses, and user groups.

    • County Commissions in Ouray, San Juan, and San Miguel support the act.

    • Town Councils in Mountain Village, Norwood, Ophir, Ridgway, and Telluride also support the act.


  • Approximately 60,000 acres would be protected under this act.

  • Wilderness Designations include:

    • 31,488 acres of NEW wilderness areas

    • 23,000 acres are additions to the existing Lizard Head and Mount Sneffels Wilderness Areas

    • 8,600 acres surrounding McKenna Peak, which is currently a Wilderness Study Area, would be designated as wilderness under the act. This would be the first desert peak designated as wilderness in southwest Colorado.

  • Special Management Areas (SMA) include:

    • 21,675 acres as the Sheep Mountain SMA – one of the largest roadless areas in Colorado not currently designated wilderness

    • 792 acres as the Liberty Bell East SMA would round out existing wilderness designations and put the iconic Sneffels Peak within wilderness

  • Mineral Withdrawal

    • 6,590 acres of Naturita Canyon, a tributary of the San Miguel, would be protected from future oil and gas leasing


  • Headwaters of San Miguel, Uncompahgre, and Animas rivers would be protected by the act.

    • The bill footprint covers 17 total river miles

    • 2.5 miles of Colorado River cutthroat trout (CRCT) habitat are encompassed in the bill

      • CRCT occupy less than 10% of their historic range. Additional habitat protections are critical to their survival.

    • The act expands watershed and riparian area protections. The municipal water supply of Norwood would be protected through the mineral withdrawal in Naturita Canyon.

    • The act would protect scenic vistas, watersheds, and wildlife habitat in such iconic areas as the Sneffels Range, Lizard Head, Ice Lake Basin, and Sheep Mountain.


  • Includes habitat sanctuaries for all big game species in Colorado

    • Protects important linkage corridors for elk, deer, and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep

    • One of the most productive mule deer units in Colorado

  • Protections for endangered habitats of the Gunnison sage grouse, Canada Lynx, and Mexican spotted owl are also included.


  • In Colorado, hunters, anglers, and wildlife viewers had a $5.1 billion economic impact in 2017.

    • Colorado Parks and Wildlife 2017 Fact Sheet

  • Residents of the 3rd Congressional district spend nearly $2.2 billion on recreation per year.

    • Outdoor Industry Association 2017 Economic Impact Report


  • The act protects areas adjacent to popular four-wheel drive routes, such as Yankee Boy Basin.

  • Exceptions have been made for current permittees for established running races, helicopter operations, and other recreation considerations already in effect.