While there are many forms of protections for public lands, the GPLI has solely focused on congressional-level designations for key public lands in portions of the Gunnison County landscape.

There are two primary types of congressional designations:

  • Wilderness is a congressional designation that provides opportunity for solitude and primitive recreation on public lands and permanently protects their natural, undeveloped, and ‘untrammeled’ character. Wilderness designation is the highest form of protection and prohibits new mining and oil and gas drilling, while generally restricting commercial timber harvest and motorized and mechanized use.

  • Special Management Areas (SMAs) permanently protect public lands for a variety of uses and values identified by the community and reflected in the legislation, but typically prevent new road building and mineral development. They can be tailored to allow a wider variety of recreational uses or to focus management on particular uses or values, such as wildlife or watershed protection. More information about wilderness and special management areas can be found in the ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ section.


Establishing Wilderness areas and SMAs requires an Act of Congress. The group discussed these two tools in the context of multiple values, including economic, traditional, ecological, scientific, and recreational uses.

These designations help to protect the baseline conditions and determine future management necessary to preserve the integrity of the landscape and its uses for generations to come.

By using special management areas and wilderness, the coalition was able to protect a greater variety of lands for water, wildlife, recreation, and other important values and uses.