Incredible wildlands are in jeopardy of being developed for oil, gas, and mineral extraction by the BLM – the very federal agency who manages them.
With a need to act on climate, it’s more important than ever that all of us practice civic engagement — at the local, state, and federal levels.
If you love our public lands like I do, I hope you will tell the Trump Administration they don’t own these lands, we have entrusted them with the management of OUR lands.
Just last week, Colorado’s AQCC voted to adopt a Zero Emission Vehicle standard which will bring help Coloradans breathe easier and bring more EVs to CO.
Through education, leadership development, and skill-building, Protégete is working to fight injustices by supporting youth in becoming the next generation of community advocates and environmental leaders.
DENVER – Today the Bureau of Land Management announced a plan allowing the gas drilling industry to dominate Colorado’s idyllic North Fork Valley with new oil and gas leasing. The plan failed to adopt a community-supported proposal that was under consideration by the agency to protect the water supply, wildlife and scenery of the North Fork Valley.
Previously, the North Fork Valley community has fought back three previous attempts to lease public lands for drilling close to the towns of Crawford, Hotchkiss and Paonia while the agency worked to complete its land use plan. The final resource management plan for the area will guide management of public lands for decades to come.
The Western Slope Conservation Center issued the following statement from Patrick Dooling, Executive Director:
“We are extremely disappointed that the BLM is moving forward with a plan that so clearly disrespects the wishes of our community and prioritizes drilling over all other uses here. The push to open our public lands for expanded drilling in Colorado’s premier sustainable farming and agri-tourism region is broadly opposed by local farms, businesses, and residents.
“The BLM’s final plan directly neglects the wishes of local governments, numerous organizations and countless citizens and shows that the current administration continues to prioritize the interests of the oil and gas industry over the public. We have fought back irresponsible drilling leases before and we fight back against this attempt to lock in risk of future drilling for years to come.”
The Wilderness Society issued the following statement from Jim Ramey, Colorado State Director:
“Instead of protecting the clean water supply that allows the North Fork Valley to thrive, the BLM is putting the gas drilling industry first.”
“It’s a shame to see Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, a native Coloradan, hand out favors to fossil fuel interests at the expense of local farmers, recreation businesses and the public here in his home state.
Not only does the plan sellout the community in the North Fork Valley by ignoring the locally-grown North Fork Alternative Plan, it also guts protections for critical wildlands across Colorado’s western slope. Places like Dry Creek Basin and Roc Creek – public lands that offer backcountry recreation, scenic views and important wildlife habitat – would be stripped of protections under the Trump administration’s proposed changes to the plan.”
Conservation Colorado issued the following statement from Executive Director Kelly Nordini:
“Today is just one more example of President Trump and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt putting the oil and gas industry ahead of local communities. Instead of helping foster the North Fork Valley’s thriving and growing agriculture and outdoor recreation economy, they are placing these sustainable industries in the crosshairs of an industry that threatens the very clean air, water and climate that helps these local businesses.”
“The Trump administration’s so-called ‘energy dominance’ agenda isn’t just a giveaway of public lands to their polluting industry friends, it mortgages Coloradans’ very future by exacerbating climate impacts instead of avoiding them.”
Why is this so important to western Colorado?
Why is this so important to western Colorado? Oil and gas development is incompatible with a healthy future for the spectacular North Fork Valley of western Colorado. The communities of the North Fork Valley are strongly opposed to oil and gas development, largely due to the negligible economic gains and the significant irreparable damage that could occur from oil and gas activities in the watershed.
- Clean Water: The North Fork Valley is a hub of organic and traditional agriculture and one of only two federally recognized wine regions in Colorado. Protection of the valley’s water supply relies on protecting the North Fork from source-to-use. Pollution must be prevented from entering this critical water system. For farmers and the agricultural economy, water quantity and quality are both of utmost importance. Organic agriculture, specialty crops, and high-quality hay all depend on abundant water free from contamination.
Surface contamination and spills, which occur regularly in Colorado oil and gas fields, could spread rapidly through the irrigation systems that water the valley. Oil and gas development is well-known to contaminate water supplies, both above and below ground, and to harm water bodies, rivers and source areas. That is a risk too great for operators in the valley, home to Colorado’s highest concentration of organic farms, an agritourism haven, and major headwaters to the Colorado River system.
- Wildlife: Of particular concern are impacts to mule deer, elk, Canada lynx, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, bald eagle and greenback cutthroat trout. Coupled with the impacts of existing energy development, additional leasing and development directly threaten rare mid-elevation habitat and the wildlife which depends upon it. The state currently does not possess adequate data on elk and mule deer populations in the area of the proposed development, and CPW staff have indicated that recent elk population numbers in the area have been in steep decline over the last few years. The local elk and mule deer are essential to the local economy, not to mention the ecology of our landscapes.
At risk in the final plan are some of the same lands the local community joined together to oppose leasing in 2011 and 2012, and again in late 2018. The initial leasing attempts prompted the BLM to consider a locally grown vision for the North Fork Valley that would keep energy development away from sensitive areas. The BLM agreed to consider the North Fork Alternative Plan in the Uncompahgre Resource Management Plan revision, however, the proposed final plan ignores the local community and undermines the citizens’ vision.
The BLM had been deferring leasing in the North Fork Valley while it revised the Uncompahgre RMP and made a long-term plan for managing the many values of this special landscape, but under Trump administration policies the agency is plowing forward with highly controversial, short-sighted leasing proposals. With its drilling above all other uses strategy for public lands, the Administration is deaf to the voices and vision the local community has worked with the BLM on for years. “Energy dominance” for the purpose of enriching fossil fuel industry executives could well result in farmers, winemakers and ranchers losing their livelihoods.
The North Fork Valley is too wild, too beautiful, and too productive to be sacrificed for oil and gas interests. Efforts to move forward with leasing in the North Fork Valley will continue to be met with strong opposition. The valley has produced energy for our country from public lands for over a century from its coal mines. Now is the time to protect remaining wildlands in the area for future generations to enjoy.
Cover image: North Fork Valley, CO. Mason Cummings, The Wilderness Society.
At the intersection of nature and consumerism exists an economic opportunity. Companies can manipulate a nature lover’s identity into a costly pursuit of image. Pair that with pressure to show the most glamorous fraction of your life on social media, and the outdoor retail industry thrives. Yet, as the climate crisis continues to escalate and stolen lands receive long-overdue recognition, the once-idealized outdoor recreation industry is poised for criticism. To survive, outdoor recreation businesses and conservation organizations must reevaluate how they serve all people and the good of the planet. The question is: how do these considerations shape a new kind of Outdoor Retailer show event, and inclusive conservation?
I first commend the Outdoor Industry Alliance’s decision to move their annual trade show from Salt Lake City to Denver in 2018 to take a stand against Utah’s government officials support of the reduction of Bears Ears National Monument. This choice diverted the show’s $110 million annual economic impact to a city proud to value conservation, environmental respect, and equity.
But, even as places are selected for their environmental values, the environmental movement must look to who is uplifted and honored. Disproportionately, leadership and participation in environmental organizations and outdoor recreation has looked white and affluent. Although significant progress has been made in gender diversity in the field, the most powerful positions are scarcely held by women and people of color. In response to this historical inequity, I join many others to envision an inclusive environmental movement.
At Elevate Conservation: Outdoors for All, the tide of inclusive conservation rose at the hands of dedicated thought leaders who have created, are creating, and will continue to create new conservationist identities.
In the words of Native Women’s Wilderness founder and honoree Jaylyn Gough, “the outdoor industry is currently gleaning billions of dollars from stolen lands.” That means industry professionals and those who claim environmental identities must respect the history of the lands they occupy and enjoy. At Outdoors for All, the Denver Singers began the event with a blessing dance. They acknowledged that Denver is a meeting point for many tribal groups, and continues to be home to 60,000 indigenous people in the Denver metro area. I viewed this acknowledgement as deep recognition of relationship to place–more than a token gesture. In her speech, Gough urged attendees to ask ourselves, “whose land are you exploring?” I am searching for what is next for an environmental movement with a history of racism, eugenics, and displacement.
Speakers at the Outdoors for All event inspired the crowd with their work, action items, and callouts. In addition to Jaylyn Gough’s powerful message, Hopi Vice Chairman Clark Tenakhongva highlighted the collaborative work of Hopi, Zuni, Ute Mountain Ute, Diné, and Ute tribes in the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition to protect 1.3 million acres of sacred tribal lands. Yesica Chavez, Student Coordinator at Environmental Learning for Kids, called upon organizational leaders to offer paid internships and jobs to underrepresented groups and enact equitable hiring practices. Mustafa Santiago Ali, Vice President of Environmental Justice, Climate, and Community Revitalization at the National Wildlife Federation, outlined three ways we can win on climate: honor culture, anchor our efforts in a place of authenticity, and live up to the responsibility that comes with privilege. I walked out of the event feeling represented and inspired, but with lingering questions about next steps.
My Jodo Shinshu Buddhist community in Honolulu taught me the importance of gratitude, which is central to my identity. I am privileged to never worry about going hungry, be a college graduate, and often claim my white or multiracial identities at my convenience. Now, I add that I am grateful to have paid work at Conservation Colorado for a cause I support deeply.
While I once found comfort in simply being grateful, the Elevate Conservation event was a powerful reminder that action follows appreciation.
For inspiration, I look to leaders in the Green 2.0 movement, including the visionaries of Protégete working to empower voices of Latinx communities. For suggestions about my own actions, I find a wealth of resources online that do not demand more education and emotional labor from leaders.
Work to shape inclusive conservation is real and necessary. Leaders who carve out space in a historically exclusive movement deserve recognition not only at events like Elevate Conservation: Outdoors for All, but every single day. This fight is not the sole responsibility of groups who have been historically excluded. Instead, it is a call to every conservationist, outdoor recreationist, or nature appreciator–especially executives within the field. We can answer this call by speaking out against discrimination, supporting inclusive organizations, and listening to underrepresented voices.
Your actions may be influenced by your own sources of power, but as Mustafa Santiago Ali reminded attendees: we all have the power to make change happen.
We sat down with Promotorxs instructors and students to learn more about how the program helps Colorado’s communities, environment, and our future.
If there’s one thing that Coloradans all share, it’s a love for our public lands. From the rushing waters of the Arkansas River to the otherworldly atmosphere of the Great Sand Dunes, our state and national parks are a shared playground where our communities can recreate and connect with nature — and with each another.
According to the latest Conservation in the West poll, 73% of citizens live here in the Centennial State thanks to our ability to live, work, and play near public lands. Public lands don’t just fill Coloradans’ weekend plans; the communities and businesses that thrive around public lands fuel a thriving outdoor recreation economy that supports nearly 230,000 local jobs and contributes more than $28 billion in consumer spending per year.
It’s clear that public lands aren’t just a part of the Coloradan’s lives; public lands are essential to the Colorado way of life.
We love our public lands so much that Colorado became the first state in the nation to establish a state holiday in honor of our public lands. Colorado Public Lands Day, which occurs each year on the third Saturday in May, celebrates Colorado’s varied public landscapes and offers all Coloradans an opportunity to spend time in and show their support for the places we love.
Across the state, dozens of different nonprofits and groups organized activities — from trail cleanups to speeches from the stage of a music festival — that gathered Coloradans around a common cause: to protect, preserve, and appreciate our public lands. The crew at the Rocky Mountain Conservancy organized a trash clean-up at around the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center in Rocky Mountain National Park. Together, 30 volunteers collected over 50 pounds of trash.
The folks from the Rocky Mountain Field Institute, the Colorado Springs Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department, and the Friends of Red Rock Canyon worked to restore a trail in the Red Rock Canyon Open Space. Afterward, the group toasted to a job well done at Fossil Craft Beer Company, a Colorado Springs brewery, that released an “RMF-IPA” collaborative beer that was brewed using local ingredients. Public lands lovers with the Colorado Mountain Club helped perform essential tread maintenance, fixing three eroded areas and bolstered three sections of critical edge with rocks on the Cave Creek trail near Palmer Lake.
The Front Range Conservation Colorado team and Protégete, alongside partners Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado, Continental Divide Trail Coalition, Sierra Club Colorado, and Mile High Youth Corps, gathered at Del Mar Park in Aurora to talk with community members about the importance of access to our public lands. The event opened with a blessing from Ralph Lefthandbull, a local Lakota man who burned sage as a part of a ceremony to start the Colorado Public Lands Day celebration.
For Regina Whiteskunk-Lopez, a member of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and former Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition Co-Chair, Colorado Public Lands Day arrives with the reminder that it’s vital that we recognize the history of our public lands and the ties to the lands, no matter our history. The outdoor recreation world has a challenge ahead of itself to continue to make sure our public lands are genuinely free, said Whiteskunk-Lopez, “we must acknowledge, reconcile, and most importantly heal from our past.”
It’s not a secret that the outdoor recreation industry — and most Americans — struggle to recognize and understand the fact that companies’ profits come from stolen land. It’s not a secret that public lands, now and throughout history, have not always been a safe place for black, brown, and indigenous communities. So, it’s not a shock that the members of the industry have made missteps in its efforts toward lasting, impactful diversity, equity, and inclusion in the outdoors. It is especially unsurprising when you take a look at the history of our public lands, examine which opportunities were given to governments and people, and think about which communities have reliable access to healthy, sustainable public lands today.
A New Frontier: Working on Inclusivity and Diversity in the Outdoors
Connor Ryan, an athlete ambassador with Natives Outdoors, recognizes that most Americans find it difficult to look at the reality of the devastating humanitarian and environmental implications of colonialism and Manifest Destiny policies; but “that’s a story we can’t get away from as native people.” In the outdoor recreation industry, Ryan recognizes that indigenous communities are looking for “some level of justice” and the acknowledgment that companies are reaping billions in profit “because we lost our home.” This reexamination and reckoning with history is crucial, affirms Ryan, as conservation and the environment play a role in public lands policy and the outdoor industry. “There’s an equal exchange that can come out of allowing our voice to play a role in how we take care of these places,” said Ryan, “because we’ve been doing that for thousands of years.”
“Nobody really wants to deal with the fact that the outdoor recreation industry tends to be a bunch of white, cisgender, heterosexual men — and few are willing to grapple with their privilege,” said Amanda Jameson, an avid backpacker and blogger who works with Big City Mountaineers and joined Conservation Colorado and Protégete on Colorado Public Lands Day. “The industry hasn’t taken the time to sit with their complicity in all of this,” said Jameson.
For Cristal Cisneros, who’s currently pursuing a Doctorate degree and is a volunteer with Latinos Outdoors, the most significant growing pain the industry is facing — “and most frustrating aspect” of the industry — is that diversity, equity, and inclusion are meaningless buzzwords for a lot of companies.
“When you think about it, what are they really doing? Are companies hiring people of color; are they in executive positions?” asked Cisneros. “It’s not just people of color; it’s people with disabilities, it’s non-binary folk; all kinds of people that need a seat at the table,” she said. Systematic change across the outdoor recreation and conservation worlds, said Cisneros, is needed to create real change.
For a lot of Coloradans, Colorado Public Lands Day fosters a safe space for this conversation while providing an opportunity to celebrate our shared love of public lands.
“In Colorado, it’s kind of second hand to be involved with the outdoor world as a Coloradan. That’s unique and deserves to be celebrated,” said Ryan. He continued, “Having a day to honor our public lands is a beautiful thing — and it makes a lot of sense!” said Ryan.
“It’s really important for people, especially people from marginalized populations, to reclaim that bond with nature and reap the physical and mental health benefits of being in nature,” concluded Cisneros. “Colorado has so many beautiful spaces, so it’s essential to truly appreciate where we live.”
“There are a lot of organizations like African American Parks and Nature Experience, Queer Nature, and Latinos Outdoors that are out there spreading the word, doing the work, and trying to give a voice to those of us who have not been traditionally represented in the outdoor industry,” shared Jameson. “To have a state and the people in the state recognize that public lands are so important and that there’s an entire day devoted to that means a lot. It’s one of the reasons I’m out here in Colorado: the mountains, the sky, and the outdoors and to be around a lot of like-minded people on this day, in this place.”
Written by Jenny Gaeng
Saturday, May 18 is Colorado Public Lands Day. Like the best holidays, it’s not just a day; it’s a mission.
Eight years ago, I lay in a meadow under the stars, sea-level lungs aching after the climb, and gazed at the unimpeded Milky Way. At the edge of the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness, the galaxy smeared across the sky as if someone dipped their finger in chalk and trailed the color through space and time. For the first time, I saw myself in the context of everything, thanks to our public lands.
Year after year, I returned to the Sangre de Cristos. I canoed to a waterfall in a glacial lake, learned to spot wild raspberries, climbed a fourteener and tearfully spat that I would never do it again (then I did it again). I brought guest after guest to the meadow of my metaphysical baptism: my mom, my friends, a once-true love, a random Tinder date. I presented the land and the lake as if I owned them, chatting proudly about weather and geology. Yes, the Sangre de Cristos were mine; they belonged to all of us, as public lands do. It seemed uncomplicated.
My story isn’t unique, nor is the fact that it’s one colored by privilege.
I started to research the history of the area. I learned that the Southern Ute camped and traveled in the Sangres, hunting elk and gathering roots and seeds for medicine. I read the dramatic crest of the mountains served as a fortress against invasions — before the Spanish found their way in from the south. I found out that “Blanca Peak” is another name for Sisnaajiní, the sacred eastern boundary of the Navajo homeland; today, the tribe still fights to protect this area from oil and gas drilling operations.
Millions of people visit Colorado’s public lands every year to hike, climb, ski, hunt, fish, and maybe have a life-changing experience as I did. And like me, the vast majority of visitors are white — nearly 95% of visitors to Forest Service lands self-identified that way during monitoring from 2010-2014. The disparity between racial demographics and National Forest visitors in Colorado ranges from 30-70%.
The roots of this fact are not a mystery. The United States has an established history of white supremacy that is set up, protected, and perpetuated by racist policies across our economy, government, and the systems these institutions create.
“Public lands for all,” we say. But you can’t just tell someone they own a locked building and expect them to find a way inside; everyone needs a key. I was lucky enough to be handed one.
Representation, marketing, and centers of outdoor recreation help cultivate a homogenous outdoor culture. It’s personified by being thin, fit, and clad in expensive gear; it’s predominantly male, cis, heterosexual, and hinges on the knowledge to survive and thrive in the wilderness. It’s what we see on the cover of Outside Magazine and it’s what we see on trails throughout Colorado. Coloradans that identify as nonwhite can hike for days in the Colorado backcountry without seeing a face that looks like theirs.
And that brings me to my mission — to our mission.
Outdoor adventurers and activists of all races, genders, and backgrounds are upping the representation game and inspiring new generations. You should pay more attention to their words and ideas than mine, and Conservation Colorado will be featuring their voices in the lead-up to Public Lands Day. Let’s talk about it. Let’s raise their stories as high as Mt. Elbert!
We love our public lands in Colorado. We love them enough to fight for them, which is the reason Colorado Public Lands Day exists. We love them enough that we’ll never stop trying to make them the best they can be — which means looking critically at our history, and shaping our future to be more inclusive and representative of all Coloradans.
We have to work together. I’m never sure of the way forward, and I’m bound to say the wrong thing or screw up at some point — we all are.
As Teresa Baker said in a recent episode of the Safety Third podcast, “Rebranding the Outdoors: “This is going to feel inauthentic as hell — because it hasn’t been done…push your fears aside about it not feeling authentic because that’s just where we are.”
If I can climb Crestone Needle and cross the Conejos River in the spring snowmelt, I think I can learn more about what it takes to make public lands truly representative and open to all people. I think you can, too.
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