Written by Scott Braden, Wilderness and Public Lands Advocate
Americans love our rugged outdoor spaces, as demonstrated by the record number of people visiting national parks, the booming outdoor recreation industry, and the high proportion of hit movies with stunning scenery as a focus.
But some opponents of public lands have been raising their voices — and even their guns — to take away these shared outdoor spaces that belong to all of us and turn them over to private owners or the states. From armed militants in Oregon to a fringe group of elected officials in statehouses around the West, we’re seeing threats to our beautiful wild places from monied interests with some very deep pockets.
In response to the bullying antics of the Bundy family, militias, and elected officials who are trying to enact the Bundy agenda in Western state legislatures, Coloradans are fighting back — with a holiday.
Conservation champion state Senator Kerry Donovan, whose district includes over four million acres of Colorado’s most prized public lands, is sponsoring a bill in Colorado’s legislature to set aside a Public Lands Day to celebrate our public lands. This idea is backed by a majority of Coloradans who favor keeping public lands in public hands, and believe that these places are essential to both our economy and quality of life.
A Public Lands Day is about as uncontroversial an idea as there could be. It would not cost the state a dime, as it’s not a holiday that would close schools or the government. At most it would cause an increase in volunteerism on the holiday. It provides Coloradans — and the entire West — with a positive antidote to the negative sentiments swirling around this issue.
Unfortunately, this celebratory bill has been derailed by Senate Republicans, led by anti-public lands Senator Jerry Sonnenberg. They’ve added amendments that are antithetical to the spirit behind the bill, which is that Coloradans support and enjoy our public lands. Instead, the new amendments use language copied from the playbook of the Koch Brothers-funded American Legislative Exchange Council that erode the president’s ability to protect national parks and national monuments, even though 84% percent of Coloradans support such actions.
Most Americans know our public lands are a uniquely American concept. Public lands boost tourism and local economies; they contain some of our nation’s most iconic, historic, and beautiful places.
“This uniquely American idea, that lands should be set aside to not belong to one person but instead the collective good, is a foundational feature of our state. Public lands support our quality of life and our state’s economy — we would be a different state without them.” — Senator Kerry Donovan
While the sentiment of “giving land back to the people” may be an enticing message, the truth is that these lands already belong to the people. Here in Colorado, we love sharing places like Pike’s Peak, the Maroon Bells, and Rocky Mountain National Park with the rest of the country, and we encourage visitors to come enjoy our incredible lands.
But we need to speak up for our public lands in order to protect them. A Public Lands Day for Colorado would do just that — show extremists that Colorado’s public lands are invaluable to the people of our state and our nation. We’ve got our work cut out for us to get the bill across the finish line and make Colorado’s Public Lands Day a reality.
For more information, read Sen. Kerry Donovan’s article about the bill.
Cover image by John Fielder