Written by Audrey Wheeler

A year ago, we reported on the West Elk Coal Mine, a highly contested mine in Colorado’s Gunnison National Forest. At that time, we and many other Coloradans were concerned about Arch Coal’s proposal to expand its coal mine, which would destroy 1,720 acres of forest.

Now, those concerns have become reality. Just two weeks ago, the Trump administration’s Forest Service announced that it is forging ahead with a plan to allow the company to expand the mine. If approved, this decision will cause irreparable harm on the national forest in more ways than one.

To take a step back, the West Elk coal mine is located in western Colorado, north of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. It’s an extremely controversial mine for a variety of reasons, including its location inside a roadless area of a national forest, its exemption from a new moratorium on coal leasing, and the fact that it is owned by formerly bankrupt company Arch Coal. But perhaps the most disturbing issue is the air pollution that it already causes, which would increase if the mine expands.

Mount Gunnison towering over the Sunset Roadless Area. The aspen forests on the right would be damaged by the mine expansion. Photo by Ted Zukoski of Earthjustice.

The West Elk mine has already been the single largest source of methane pollution in Colorado, spewing 58,000 tons of methane into the air every year. Methane — an immensely potent greenhouse gas — has more than 80 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide, and is a major contributor to climate pollution.

Although Colorado has some of the strongest rules in the nation for methane pollution from oil and gas activity, as the Colorado Independent reports, “Unlike methane from oil and gas drilling, coal mine methane remains unregulated at both state and federal levels.” The proposed expansion to the coal mine could mean emitting enough methane to negate half of the emissions prevented by Colorado’s methane rules for oil and gas.

Plus, under Arch Coal’s plan, more than six miles of forest will be bulldozed for roads and up to 48 drilling pads will be built in the Sunset Roadless Area, which connects to the West Elk Wilderness. The area is a rolling landscape of aspen and spruce-fir forests that provide habitat for native black bear, elk, lynx, and cutthroat trout.

The actions by the Trump administration to move forward with this mine expansion are even more disturbing because of how they deal with the impacts of government projects on climate change. Previously, government environmental reviews like this had to take into account the impact of the project on climate change. Now, the Forest Service claims that calculating climate impacts is not an “appropriate tool at the project level” and is “no longer representative of governmental policy.” This comes out of a Trump executive order that disbanded the agency working group associated with it.

Hikers in the Sunset Roadless area near the West Elk mine. Photo by Ted Zukoski of Earthjustice.

The Forest Service wants to give Arch Coal access to more than 17 million tons of coal — but at what cost? The West Elk Mine already has over a decade of coal in reserve, and this decision not only ignores the economic realities that face the coal industry, but it generates even more greenhouse gas emissions, further exacerbating climate change. Coal has been central to the local economy in this area for generation, but this coal mine expansion is a bad idea for the forest and for our climate.

The negative consequences of expanding the West Elk Coal Mine and the damage it would cause to our national forest are obvious. The U.S. Forest Service is asking the public to weigh in on this problematic West Elk Coal Mine expansion. Take action today to send a message to the administration that we value our public lands too much to watch them be destroyed. Follow this link to sign a petition to the Forest Service.

This one decision could destroy aspen groves, displace native wildlife, and vent methane pollution into our air. It’s a sign of what to expect under the Trump administration in terms of our public lands — and it’s up to us to stop it.

Cover image: The West Elk Mine. Image from WildEarth Guardians flickr.

Written by Audrey Wheeler

The first-ever Colorado Public Lands Day was celebrated this weekend with 137 events across the state. This new holiday is the first of its kind for any state in the nation, and was created by our Colorado legislature in 2016 to occur on the third Saturday of May each year.

This year, events ranged from volunteering to bicycling to hiking to drinking beer. Volunteers came together to restore trails, plant native species, and clean up our wild places. Ten breweries jumped on board with limited-edition craft brews to honor public lands.

Some big names were involved in the festivities. Colorado-based band Elephant Revival hosted a trail cleanup event, played an acoustic set at a Colorado Public Lands Day event, and gave a shoutout to our public lands from the stage at the Red Rocks music venue on Sunday.

The band, which has made a bold commitment to protecting public lands, was the “official sound” of the holiday this year. U.S.  and Conservation Colorado Executive Director  got onstage at their Red Rocks show to urge the audience to protect public lands. Senator Bennet urged the audience to celebrate and protect our public lands because “our work is not done.” Hundreds of people took action with Conservation Colorado to support our national monuments.

In addition, many other Colorado politicians came out to celebrate the holiday. Governor Hickenlooper spoke about public lands protection to a packed street at the Grand Junction Epic Rides Fest. U.S. Congressman Ed Perlmutter, who represents the Golden area, commented that “In Colorado, public lands are part of our DNA,” when he spoke on stage at one of our marquee events the American Mountaineering Center in Golden.

The holiday was established in large part due to the efforts of state Senator . Donovan said of the holiday, “Since we passed it, there have been some very real challenges and political discussion around the threat against public lands staying public. I think it has a new significance, showing how important it is that our public lands stay public and accessible to all.”

It’s true that this holiday could not have come at a better time. Right now, the attacks on our public lands are all too real, from a “review” of 27 treasured National Monuments to halting the work of over 200 advisory boards for the Department of the Interior. Fortunately, the inaugural Colorado Public Lands Day proved that Coloradans are ready to stand up for their public lands.

In all, the holiday was an enormous success for celebrating and honoring our public lands. The widespread participation in Colorado Public Lands Day is proof of Coloradans’ affinity for protecting our public lands. We can’t wait to celebrate next year!

Cover image: Celebration for Colorado Public Lands Day at a brewery. Anna Peterson.

Written by Gabe Kiritz, Public Lands Business Organizer

There have been several recent attacks from Washington, D.C. on Colorado’s public lands and waters. Just this week, the Trump administration issued an executive order that will begin a process to “review” the 30 national monuments created since 1996 that are larger than 100,000 acres, which could result in Colorado’s iconic Canyons of the Ancients national monument being shrunk or losing it’s protections entirely.

Additionally, the Trump administration’s proposed budget threatens harmful cuts to our nation’s public lands and environment. The Department of Interior, which manages our national parks, national wildlife refuges, other public lands, is facing a massive 12 percent cut that would have major impacts on conservation and our recreation economy.

These public lands support diverse economic interests, including an outdoor recreation economy that’s estimated to be as large as the auto industry and pharmaceutical industry combined, at $887 billion. According to the Outdoor Industry Association’s 2017 Outdoor Recreation Economy Report, outdoor recreation employs more Americans than construction, computer technology, or education. Cutting funds for our public lands damages the communities that depend on tourism and outdoor recreation, the wildlife living on those lands, and the health and well-being of Americans who explore our nation’s wild places.

That’s why Colorado businesses have decided to stand up and speak out. In fact, 98 businesses just signed on to a letter with the Colorado Outdoor Business Alliance calling for Senator Cory Gardner to defend and protect Colorado’s public lands. Here’s an excerpt from their letter, and you can read the full text here:

“Colorado’s national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, wilderness areas, and monuments are essential to our industries, way of life, and bottom lines. COBA members are united to conserve and protect access to our public lands and sustain our state’s economy….

We now urge you to support our economic interests by advancing meaningful public lands protections and defending our national public lands from any and all legislative attacks…”

The companies that signed this letter are outdoor recreation manufacturers, retailers, guides, and outfitters, alongside ranches, marketing firms, tech companies, and startups, depend on public lands for their way of life and to attract employees. They make Colorado a thriving place to do business.

With this letter in hand, seven Colorado business leaders flew to Washington, D.C. on March 27th, 2017 to meet with staff from Senator Michael Bennet, Senator Gardner, and Congressman Scott Tipton’s offices. There, they called for leadership in standing up for Colorado’s public lands. They asked Colorado’s congressional delegation to:

Colorado business leaders in Washington D.C.

The call for leadership has been made — will our representatives respond and protect Colorado’s economy?

The outdoor recreation industry in Colorado has continued to be an important indicator of how much progress Colorado has made on public lands over the last few years. For example, no land seizure bills have passed in the Colorado state legislature, despite almost ten attempts by extremist legislators to do so. These bills would have paved the way for our public lands to be seized by the state and eventually leased or sold off to private interests. Additionally, last year our state legislature established Colorado Public Lands Day, the first state holiday of its kind in the country.

That’s why, when the Outdoor Industry Association announced that it was looking for a new home for its massive Outdoor Retailer show that is friendlier to public lands that Utah, Colorado was in a position to make a strong case that we deserve the show. In fact, Conservation Colorado ran these ads in Utah newspapers making the case for the show to come here:

Senator Gardner claims to stand with Colorado businesses and the outdoor recreation industry. However, his track record thus far this Congress on protecting public lands and air quality, two fundamental pieces of natural infrastructure that sustain a healthy recreation economy and Colorado businesses, does not reflect these values. Senator Gardner must prove he values public lands as much as the support of the outdoor industry. Defending against attacks on our lands and supporting proactive legislation is a good place to start.

As the businesses said in their letter to Senator Gardner: “Our public lands are essential to Colorado’s economy and quality of life. Please uphold the legacy of bipartisan support for protecting public lands that makes us proud to base our businesses in Colorado.”

Contact: Jessica Goad, 720-206-4235

The Salt Lake Tribune is reporting this morning that President Trump is expected to sign an Executive Order on Wednesday that would require a “review” of national parks and monuments that have been protected by presidents using executive action under the Antiquities Act since 1996. This review could result in parks and monuments being shrunk or completely losing protections.

In Colorado, this means that three national monuments are in the crosshairs: Browns Canyon near Salida (designated in 2015), Chimney Rock near Pagosa Springs (designated in 2012), and Canyons of the Ancients near Cortez (designated in 2000).

Scott Braden, Wilderness and Public Lands Advocate at Conservation Colorado, made the following statement:

With this review, the Trump administration has launched an attack on Colorado’s heritage and the iconic public lands that are critical to our economy and way of life. The fact that federal bureaucrats are attempting to overturn protections for our lands is deeply offensive to those of us who live in the Colorado and the West.

More details:
– No president has ever attempted to revoke a national monument and legal scholars believe it is illegal.
– Coloradans are strongly supportive of presidents’ abilities to create new national parks and monuments. One poll found that 82 percent of Coloradans believe protections for parks and monuments should be kept in place rather than revoked.
– Regions surrounding national monuments have seen continued growth in employment, personal income, and increased per capita income.
Scott Braden is available for TV, radio, and print interviews today and throughout the week.

Fourpoints Real Food Energy Bar was started by brothers Kevin Webber and Patrick Webber, and friend Steve Shenfish.

Written by Scott Braden, Wilderness and Public Lands Advocate

They say that one journey can change your life. It happened to me. When I was ten years old, my dad and I drove from my home state of Georgia to Colorado and Utah, where I was immediately taken with the red rocks, swirling sandstone, and contortionist arches that embody the canyon country of the American Southwest. I was hooked, finding my way West again soon after college for a summer job in southern Utah at Outward Bound. The seasonal job turned into something more, and I’ve been making my living as an educator and activist for public lands ever since. In fact, my wife and I recently decided to move from Denver to Western Colorado to live as close as possible to these rivers and canyons.

Last month, President Barack Obama designated Bears Ears National Monument, protecting 1.35 million acres of national public lands in southern Utah’s incomparable canyon country. This effort, a culmination to years of work, was led by Hopi, Ute, Navajo, Ute Mountain Ute, and Zuni tribal leaders, and it will protect tens of thousands of sacred cultural and archaeological sites. It will also preserve an incredibly unique landscape on the Colorado Plateau. It’s one of my — and many Coloradans’ — favorite places to explore in the world.

One of the many cultural sites in the Bears Ears area.

President Obama protected Bears Ears using the Antiquities Act, one of the most important conservation tools for the nation. The Antiquities Act has been deployed to create parks and protect some of Colorado’s most exemplary natural treasures, from the Great Sand Dunes to Browns Canyon, and from Chimney Rock to Colorado National Monument. The Act was created in 1906 during the administration of the conservationist president Theodore Roosevelt. It has been used by presidents of both parties to protect over 500 million acres of lands and seas. President Obama has used the Antiquities Act more than any previous president, permanently protecting 568 million acres of land and sea.

Despite these tremendous conservation gains, the Antiquities Act has some enemies. Utah Representative Rob Bishop has vowed to work with the Trump administration to undo protections for Bears Ears and other areas protected by President Obama and President Clinton by the Antiquities Act, including those in Colorado (this would mean rolling back protections for Browns Canyon, Chimney Rock, and Canyons of the Ancients). These efforts to roll back protections are unprecedented, making it unclear if this is even possible.

Bears ears is known for its myriad historical sites, incredible red rock views, unparalleled recreation opportunities, including rock climbing.

Already in the first week of Congress, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski and 25 other Republican senators (though thankfully none from Colorado) introduced a bill to gut the Antiquities Act, by requiring the approval of Congress and the state legislature where the monument is proposed. This would effectively halt any new national monuments in the places that need them most — places where Congress has utterly failed to protect public lands and cultural treasures. In Colorado, Browns Canyon National Monument’s designation came after thirty years of bipartisan efforts to protect this landscape through Congress came to naught.

To keep the Bears Ears and other national monuments protected, we must stand up for our public lands and the West’s national parks, monuments, and forests. The Antiquities Act and even public lands themselves face an existential threat. There is an anti-parks and public lands agenda that is moving forward only because it’s backed by big-money interests like oil and gas, mining, and logging. You and I, the citizens who care about these places, are the only ones who can save them.

Western public lands and monuments are symbols of freedom and possibility, what the great writer Wallace Stegner termed “the geography of hope.” They captured my spirit, and I’m forever grateful. They give me hope, and it is my most sincere hope that they will captivate the imagination and inspire generations to come.

A young Scott Braden enjoying a site that would eventually become part of Bears Ears National Monument.

Written by Conservation Colorado staff

Outdoor recreation in a warming world is not getting easier. Shorter, warmer winters hurt ice climbing and skiing, while reduced snowmelt is challenging for fishing and whitewater sports. Hot summers push climbers and hikers into the fall and spring, increasing the risk of running out of daylight.

Colorado Springs reflects many of the impacts of climate change on recreation seen across the state. For example, there was a ski hill at the Broadmoor until 1991, which is almost inconceivable to many newer residents to the Front Range. Ice climbing routes at popular local spots such as Silver Cascade are getting more and more unpredictable. And diminishing snowpack means less spring runoff, making whitewater sports difficult.

All of these things are on the mind of David Crye, Assistant Director of Colorado College’s Office of Outdoor Education in Colorado Springs. He helps organize skiing, climbing, rafting, and backpacking trips for students. Climate change affects his job, just as it threatens all of Colorado’s outdoor businesses, ski companies, and weekend warriors. Outdoor recreation is a huge part of the draw of Colorado College, so the program is important for administrators as well as for students.

David’s job revolves around planning educational outings for the students at Colorado College. This is getting challenging as Colorado’s fickle seasons become even harder to predict.

Hit-and-miss seasons for kayaking or ice climbing trips are frustrating for students and staff alike. When students are researching and proposing a trip, water or ice levels may be good–but when it comes to the day before the trip, conditions may have totally changed. This is frustrating for anyone trying to plan personal trips, but is especially problematic for structured programs like guiding businesses or school outings. These trips can’t easily be moved or rescheduled.

“Our programs exist to get people outside, expose them to nature and activities and find their place. College is about getting out trying out new things and learning – which isn’t always in the classroom,” explained David. With climate shifts causing fickle weather, students who were excited to learn about ice climbing or enjoy a scenic river may lose their chance.

While Colorado’s weather has always been reliably unreliable, climate change makes things even worse. This matters for outdoor programs, as David points out.  “Outdoor education helps our community be more cohesive and more in-tune with the world and nature. If students aren’t getting out and experiencing nature, or seeing the changes that are happening,  why would they even know or care to be an advocate for upcoming generations?”

Even historic trips are coming into question. Normally, Colorado College runs an Avalanche Safety course in mid-February. Last year, the snowpack was too low. Students got the same education in avalanche safety, but they missed out on the hands-on experience. David worries that these leaders may not actually have the experience needed to safely lead future trips, because their training took place in such bad snow.

In short, climate change doesn’t just affect high alpine creatures, coastal communities, or big ski resorts. It affects almost all forms of outdoor recreation, threatening our seasons and making planning nearly impossible. Soaring temperatures and unpredictable weather events are a major headache for guides, outdoor enthusiasts, and outing programs.

If current predictions hold true, what is now a major headache will soon become much more troubling. Boulder, Fort Collins, and Greeley were all recently named as cities that will be heavily affected by climate change. Greeley has seen one of the biggest increase in 100-degree days since 1970; Fort Collins is among the cities with the biggest increases in 90-degree days. Boulder is getting muggier – it’s ranked in the top three cities with the biggest dew point increase since 1970.

All these statistics show that you don’t have to be an ice climber to feel the effects of climate change. Daily bike commutes, summer runs, and walks with the dog could all change drastically.

Our multi-billion outdoor recreation economy is especially sensitive to the impacts of climate change. We can work to fix this by supporting good climate policy, electing leaders who make climate action a priority, and working on ways to limit our own personal use.

Written by Audrey Wheeler

Alongside the Rio Olympics and a presidential election, 2016 is an important year because it marks the 100th birthday of our national parks.

Our national parks help tell the story of who we are as a nation. Some of these places are memorialized for the human history of the area, while others are preserved for their wild character and natural heritage.

While the history of our national parks is often discussed through figures such as Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir, there are scores of other stories embedded into our nation’s lands that aren’t told enough.

In fact, a 2014 analysis of all our national parks and monuments found that only 112 out of 460 national park units across the country had a “primary purpose” of recognizing the history, culture, or contributions of a traditionally underrepresented community.

Luckily, this deficit has been recognized and things are changing. Several of our new national parks are devoted to telling the full story of this country. These include the Stonewall Inn in New York City that is an important historical site for the LGBT rights movement, the Cesar Chavez National Monument in Southern California that tells the important story of Hispanic migrant laborers, and the Pullman National Monument which describes the history of the “first all African-American union in the country.” .

Colorado’s national parks are doing an excellent job of telling diverse stories. Our analysis of our national park units’ online materials reveals that seven out of the twelve have a primary purpose of telling the stories of underrepresented communities.

Colorado’s twelve national park units tell many different stories. For example, Mesa Verde National Park has incredible artifacts and remnants of Ancestral Puebloan cultures, while Bent’s Fort National Historic Site weaves together the tales of Hispanic settlers, European fur trappers, and Native Americans on the Great Plains.

How can we do this?

The beautiful spaces of Rocky Mountain National Park should be made welcoming and accessible to all.

There are plenty of excellent ideas that have been under discussion. A national coalition of civil rights, environmental justice, and conservation groups have been pushing to increase the use of national parks by minorities, employment of minorities at parks, and the number of parks and monuments that highlight the role of communities of color in American history. The coalition has also called on President Obama to issue a memorandum to encourage federal land management agencies to reflect the growing diversity of the country.

While these changes represent huge progress towards more discussion of diversity in our national parks, we recognize that this change isn’t going to happen immediately nor without the  effort of everyone who enjoys national parks. Colorado is an incredibly diverse place, and this second century of our incredible national parks, should ensure that they are accessible to and honor all people of our nation.

**Updated information about Colorado Public Lands Day can be found on the holiday’s website: www.copubliclandsday.com**

Written by Scott Braden, Wilderness and Public Lands Advocate

Colorado just became the first state in the nation to establish a day celebrating its parks, forests, and other public lands, passing a bipartisan bill that the governor just signed this past week. This means that May 20, 2017 will be the first “Colorado Public Lands Day.”

But what does it really mean?

First, we have to take a step back and understand the context in which this holiday was designated. Debate about public lands have roiled the West, with states like Utah leading the charge to attempt a radical takeover of our public lands heritage by passing or attempting to pass laws demanding that the public lands be turned over to the control of states or private interests.

The politicians pushing this agenda, like Utah Representative Ken Ivory and his organization called the American Lands Council, have an agenda for these lands that would shock most of us: huge increases in drilling, mining, and logging to pay for management of lands now shared by all Americans; increased privatization to make public lands available to developers; and diminution of wilderness, wildlife, and recreation on public lands as they are crowded out by industrial extractive uses. Their agenda could render the public estate unrecognizable to most Americans, who greatly value our nation’s shared natural treasures.

Colorado has not been immune to these threats. Our state legislators have introduced eight bills in the past five years to seize or otherwise undermine control of our public lands. Each has been defeated, and each has been a fight. But this year, something remarkable happened. Senator Kerry Donovan introduced a simple bill to declare a public lands holiday, and, despite a rocky path through the legislature and adding and striking of several anti-public lands amendments, the bill passed and became law.

And that represents a watershed moment not just for our state, but for the whole American West.

Colorado has done what no other state has done.

It has taken a definitive step away from the politics of public lands seizure and instituted a tangible recognition that public lands are an enormous public good. Our public lands support our legendary quality of life and lift our economy. We have changed the tenor and tone of the debate. We have again demonstrated that it is a Western value to collaborate and improve, rather than pursue conflict and bluster.

I believe that the public lands seizure political movement hit rock bottom when armed militants held the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge earlier this year, spouting the same rhetoric of “returning” public lands to private interests as Rep. Ivory and his acolytes in statehouses across the West. The public watched in horror as the refuge was trashed, new roads bulldozed across wetlands, and Native American artifacts were disturbed by bullies toting semi-automatic weapons. The standoff ended in violence and the confederates are now largely in jail. The seizure movement has been in a tailspin ever since.

So my hope is that with the establishment of the Colorado Public Lands Day, we will have more bills across the West and nation that foster partnership and stewardship of public lands. There is surely room for improvement in the management of these lands, and hopefully this holiday can serve as a reminder that we can work together to solve problems and that enormous benefits accrue to us because of our public lands.

Written by Conservation Colorado staff

Whether it’s obvious or not, Latinos are conservationists and have been connected to madre tierra for generations. That’s because our Latina moms are constantly reminding us to conserve, recycle, and enjoy the outdoors. We may miss the message when it comes from trained environmentalists, but not when it’s from nuestras mamás. Here are four examples of how Latinos conserve every day to save money and resources.

While a climate expert will tell you to reduce your carbon footprint by using less energy, nuestras mamás teach us about energy conservation by having us turn off the lights when we don’t need them… Simple, right?

Conservation is part of our culture. For example, nuestras mamás always remind us to never throw things away that can be used to save leftovers – reusing everyday items saves money and helps preserve our natural resources.

Latina moms will always encourage us to enjoy parks and play outdoors – especially in the beautiful state of Colorado! So yes, Latinos agree that recreating outside is good for keeping us active and healthy. Incidentally, it’s also pretty good for our economy: public lands add $24 million to our state’s economy every year!

We are taught to conserve water by nuestras mamás as they time our showers and tell us to cerrar la llave de agua. Saving water in our communities will help save water on the state level, so we can prevent water shortages and costly projects to move water from mountains to cities!

As can be seen, trained environmentalists and nuestras mamás share the same values, we just express them differently. Coloradans want to reduce our carbon footprint, preserve our natural resources, improve our quality of life, and be smart about water use. We understand that protecting madre tierra is not all about science and numbers; as we have learned from our moms, we have to act now to protect Colorado for future generations!