Why We’re Organizing in Colorado’s Central Mountains Region

By:  Erin Riccio
  • Crystal River at Sunset

Looking outside of my new office window, I can see Mount Sopris rising above the juniper-covered hills that gently slope above the town of Carbondale. This is the view I have to look forward to each day as Conservation Colorado’s new Central Mountains Field Organizer — and let me say, there’s no other place quite like it.

Erin Riccio, Central Mountains Field Organizer

Erin Riccio, Central Mountains Field Organizer

In many ways, the Roaring Fork Valley is a microcosm of Colorado. It extends across three counties — Garfield, Eagle, and Pitkin — that span the political spectrum. It is home to the confluence of the Roaring Fork, the Frying Pan, and the Crystal, three rivers that drain into the mighty Colorado as it winds through the river valley down into the canyons of the Colorado Plateau. It is rich in history, culture, and natural beauty, which is why I’m so excited to be working with Coloradans across the region to protect it.

The issues this region faces are as diverse as the landscapes it spans. Western Garfield County is part of the Piceance Basin, an area rich in natural gas. Increased drilling of this region has led to concerns from local landowners about the health, economic, and environmental impacts of oil and gas encroachment on their communities.

Skier on a Colorado slopeFurther east in Pitkin County, the economy is largely tied to the ski and outdoor recreation industry, which is jeopardized by the looming threat of climate change. To the south sits the Thompson Divide. For over a decade, community members have been working to protect this landscape’s rich agricultural heritage, outdoor recreation opportunities, and critical watersheds from oil and gas leasing.

As Conservation Colorado’s organizer in the region, I’ll engage with residents along the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys to fight climate change, protect our lands, waterways, and wildlife, and stand up against powerful interests.

And closer to home, there are many examples of conservation leadership. These include: 

  • The only municipalities in our state — Glenwood Springs and Aspen — to be powered 100 percent by renewable energy;
  • Cancellation of 18 oil and gas leases along the Thompson Divide, an important landscape renowned for its hunting and recreation opportunities;
  • Creation of the Crystal River Management Plan to better manage water usage and enhance the ecological integrity of the river;
  • A goal to electrify one-third of the Roaring Fork Valley Transportation Authority’s bus fleet.
Members of the public participate in a hearing with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission

Members of the public participate in a hearing with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission on oil and gas issues in Glenwood in August 2019.

But in light of all this progress, there is more work to be done. With your help, we can:

  • Conserve our public lands that support a high quality of life and booming outdoor economy by passing the CORE Act;
  • Protect our unique communities from the health and safety hazards of oil and gas activities through continued engagement with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission;
  • Address climate change by implementing the Climate Action Plan to reduce statewide carbon emissions by 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050;
  • Ensure our rivers are healthy and flowing with the full funding of the Colorado Water Plan.
Crystal River at Sunset

The Crystal River at sunset. In 2012, the Crystal River was listed as one of the most endangered rivers in the world by American Rivers.

This region is ripe for opportunity for expanded activism around conservation of our outdoors and climate. From the jagged peaks of the Elk Mountains in the East, to the mesas of the Roan Plateau to the West, this region is vast and diverse in landscape, people, and political opinion. As an organizer on the Western Slope, I am committed to bringing the voices of this region to the State Capitol and other decision-making spaces.

I look forward to working here and engaging this community in the fight to protect Colorado we all know and love for future generations — because the future is worth the fight!