Liz Rosenbaum helped the fight for clean water in her El Paso County community to the movement for a PFAS-free Colorado.
Coloradans — in the midst of a global health crisis and on the heels of our worst wildfire season ever — overwhelmingly want climate leadership.
Learn more about the 30×30 Goal, what it is, and why Colorado must take the lead in protecting nature.
Tribal inclusion in public lands management means more than a lands acknowledgement. Read highlights from a panel discussion with Ernest House Jr. and Anna Cordova.
When it comes to the Colorado Water Plan, we all have a lot of questions. Here are the answers you need to know about our state’s water plan: what’s in it, what it will cost, and why you should care.
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.
Our state and national parks are a shared playground where our communities can recreate and connect with nature — and with each another.
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.
Last November, Colorado voters sent a clear message by sweeping pro-conservation champions into office up and down the ballot: Coloradans value conservation.
In the face of a federal administration actively working to reverse protections for clean air, clean water, and a healthy climate, Coloradans called on our state leaders to fight back. Our calls were heard. Of the 598 bills state lawmakers introduced this legislative session, overhauls of Colorado’s energy policies and oil and gas regulations were among the General Assembly’s top priorities.
After years of the same story at Colorado’s legislature of big, bold policies to protect our future being shut down by anti-conservation legislators, 2019 held a lot of promise for Colorado. We were excited to work with our elected leaders to deliver on that promise by taking on some of our biggest campaigns ever.
Thanks to you, our lawmakers passed legislation to make Colorado a leader on climate action, prioritize the health and welfare of Colorado’s communities, and protect the lands and waterways that define our state.
Tackling Climate Change
Dramatically reducing carbon pollution is key to Colorado swiftly acting on climate change—and the need for doing so has never been more clear. We put Colorado on a path towards a zero-carbon future by setting science-based carbon pollution reduction targets, decarbonizing our energy sector, and making it easier to buy and drive electric vehicles.
Numerous studies show we have a small window within which to prevent the most damaging impacts of climate change. The “Climate Action Plan” (House Bill 1261) will help us do our part to leave a healthy environment for future generations by creating a framework to reduce Colorado’s carbon pollution at least 90 percent by 2050, relative to 2005 levels. A bill to better collect climate change data (Senate Bill 96) will keep Colorado on track to meet this goal by requiring state regulators to collect data on carbon emissions and propose reduction strategies based on their findings.
Currently, electricity generation accounts for most of the carbon pollution produced in Colorado. A bill to reform the Public Utilities Commission (Senate Bill 236) will drastically reduce these emissions by directing all utilities in the state to generate more carbon-free electricity and consider the “social cost” of carbon when planning future energy projects. This cost—used to measure the dollar value of long-term damage caused by carbon pollution—will allow utilities to evaluate the significant monetary benefits of continuing to invest in clean energy projects. Another utilities-focused bill (House Bill 1313) will help Colorado continue to play a national leadership role on clean energy by setting a template for Colorado’s largest utility, Xcel Energy, as well as other utilities, to achieve their bold carbon reductions targets.
And lastly, by 2030, our transportation sector is expected to surpass electricity generation as the top carbon emitter in the state. That’s why transforming transportation is critical to combating climate change. We took a big step toward electrifying Colorado’s transportation fleet by passing bills to extend electric vehicle tax credits to 2025 (House Bill 1159) and expand electric vehicle infrastructure (Senate Bill 77) while defeating a bill to prohibit the adoption of Zero Emission Vehicle Standards (Senate Bill 53). These bills will keep Colorado the “best place in the country” to buy an electric vehicle as well as make low- and zero-emissions vehicles more affordable and more accessible to Coloradans.
Prioritizing the Health and Well-being of Coloradans
For too long, Colorado’s oil and gas laws and regulations had not kept pace with development, leaving our communities and environment to bear the consequences. This year we made significant gains in ensuring that when it comes to oil and gas drilling, health and safety come first. The oil and gas reform bill (Senate Bill 181) outlines a number of common-sense reforms to put Coloradans’ well being ahead of industry profits. The bill not only safeguards our communities by prioritizing public health and welfare, it will help combat carbon pollution by minimizing methane emissions. As a result, this bill will protect the health of our communities as Colorado moves beyond dirty fuels.
Progressing towards a clean energy future is critical to our way of life—but we must ensure a just and equitable transition along the way. Moving toward an inclusive economy built on clean energy will require more than just technological solutions, it will mean supporting workers and communities whose livelihoods are impacted by this shift.
We helped to address the needs of workers, residents, and communities transitioning to a cleaner economy in a number of policies we worked to pass this session. The “Climate Action Plan” will help empower regulators to take bigger steps toward regulating air pollution in disproportionately impacted communities by specifically directing air quality experts to collaborate with a variety of different stakeholders, including frontline communities as they work to craft regulations. The “just transition” bill (House Bill 1314) will accelerate Colorado’s switch to cleaner electricity generation while benefiting local economies by providing grants, workforce training, and other re-employment programs to communities currently dependent on the coal industry. The Public Utilities Commission Reform bill will also help support communities making this switch by requiring energy companies to create a workforce transition plan when closing a coal-fired plant.
Protecting Our Lands and Waters
Climate change, pollution, and rapid population growth are putting significant strains on the lands and waterways that Coloradans depend on. This legislative session we made big moves to preserve Colorado’s wild places and cascading waters.
From mountain peaks to open grasslands, Colorado’s lands are central to our outdoor heritage and recreation economy. That’s why we supported a bill to update conservation easements (House Bill 1264). This measure will allow more Coloradans to protect the lands they love by extending and improving upon Colorado’s conservation easement program which already protects about 2.5 million acres across Colorado. It’s also why we worked to defeat a misguided wildfire mitigation bill (Senate Bill 37) which would have undone long-established, collaborative relationships between local governments and land managers to successfully address the threat of wildfires and maintain forest resiliency.
The water we use to drink, irrigate our crops, and sustain our communities is water that we share with our rivers, streams, and lakes. But severe drought and increasing water demands threaten to diminish both the quantity and quality of our water supply.
We passed two policies to help sustain healthy, flowing rivers: a mining reform bill (House Bill 1113) and a bill to fund Colorado’s Water Plan (House Bill 1327). The mining reform bill will preserve the quality of Colorado’s waterways by necessitating hard-rock mining companies to prove they can pay to treat polluted water prior to operating a new mine. This will ensure that Colorado’s water and communities are protected from the devastating environmental and economic impacts of hard-rock mining.
The Colorado Water Plan funding bill will maintain adequate flows in Colorado’s rivers and streams by creating a revenue source—through the legalization of sports betting—to fund the Colorado Water Plan, a roadmap to prevent statewide water shortfalls. If approved by voters, the bill will allocate 10 percent of proceeds—an estimated $10 million annually—towards water conservation as well as provide money to combat gambling addiction.
These victories would not have been possible without you! Thousands of Conservation Colorado members across the state took action this legislative session to ensure a healthy Colorado for years to come.
Thank you—our members, donors, and supporters—for everything you did to make the environment a priority for legislators this year. By joining us and raising your voice on conservation issues, you have been a crucial part of this success.
This year was a year of tremendous progress. Now, we have a stronger-than-ever foundation upon which to build a better future for Colorado.
With your help, we can continue to grow our movement and be a national conservation leader.
How Colorado is ready to lead on the Environment
Drove 1,800 megawatts of clean energy. Cut pollution from cars. Organized thousands of Coloradans to stand up to the Trump administration. Won 53 elections, electing more women and people of color than ever before in Colorado. When we pause and take a look back, it’s clear that our 2018 was pretty eventful.
Building a movement requires many small successes. And this year — with the support of our many dedicated volunteers, donors, and activists — we accomplished a lot to protect Colorado’s environment.
First, we put more time, money, and effort into electing pro-conservation leaders than ever before — and it paid off! We played a part in getting Jared Polis elected as governor and in electing pro-conservation majorities in the Colorado legislature!
But election victories aren’t the only thing we accomplished this year.
Energy and Climate
- We helped bring more clean, renewable energy to Colorado through Xcel Energy’s Colorado Energy Plan. This will save an estimated $213 million for energy consumers, replacing two coal-fired power plants using renewable energy, existing (but no new) natural gas resources, and doubling the amount of battery storage that is currently under contract in the entire country. We sent nearly 10,000 public comments (a new record) to the Public Utilities Commission to make this plan a reality.
- We worked to pass a bill that supports rural communities impacted by economic downturn, like a big industry leaving. The “REACT” bill provides much-needed coordination and resources for state agencies to assist rural communities. It does this by designating a specific state agency, the Department of Local Affairs, to coordinate economic assistance.
- We made big moves for cleaning up pollution from cars in Colorado. In November, Colorado became the first interior state to pass Low Emission Vehicle standards for cars and trucks, which will reduce pollution from tailpipes, help Coloradans breathe easier, and save money for families at the pump. We lauded Governor Hickenlooper when he kicked off the process with an executive order in June, and we brought input from more than 7,600 Coloradans to the agency in charge.
- We played a part in passing a bill to increase funding for transportation, a need that has grown as Colorado’s population has boomed. A true compromise, this transportation funding bill includes flexible, statewide funding that invests in transit, bike, and pedestrian options as well as highways and roads. SB 001 provides funding for all parts of the state to decrease congestion, promote equity, and reduce air pollution.
Wilderness and Public Lands
- We partnered with U.S. Senator Michael Bennet and Representative Jared Polis to introduce a bill in both chambers of Congress to permanently protect 96,000 acres in the White River National Forest, including Camp Hale as the first-ever National Historic Landscape. The Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness, and Camp Hale Act will protect the natural beauty, outdoor recreation, historic resources, and wildlife habitat in the nation’s busiest national forest.
- We supported a bill to reauthorize Colorado’s lottery to continue funding outdoor recreation and land conservation. Through this program, Great Outdoors Colorado has returned more than $1.1 billion to the people of Colorado through projects like community parks and trails in all 64 of Colorado’s counties.
- We mobilized thousands of Coloradans to speak up to the Trump administration, sending in comments on proposed changes to sage grouse plans, getting local elected officials on board to stop drilling near the Great Sand Dunes, and recruiting 103 businesses to send a letter to Congress to protect the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
- We worked with our legislative champions to pass three bills that allow reused water to be used for flushing toilets, growing hemp and marijuana, and cultivating edible crops. Reused water is recycled water that has been treated so it is clean enough to use again. These bills will save water for Colorado.
- We won a lawsuit to keep the Dolores River flowing. There is now water that is legally allotted to restore stream flows for the fish and wildlife that depend on it.
- Conservation Colorado Education Fund and Protégete registered 10,360 new voters in Denver and Pueblo counties—75 percent of whom identify as people of color—to help increase voter participation in Colorado.
- We graduated 44 Promotores, or individuals from Latino communities who committed to learning how to organize and lead their community toward local and statewide solutions through civic engagement. This included our first-ever youth Promotores, who are local high school and college students going through our program.
- We helped defeat Amendment 74, a ballot measure supported by out-of-state corporate interests who wanted to change the character of Colorado neighborhoods and our rural landscapes by giving developers loopholes to build anything they like, anywhere they like.
The Fight Continues
Our country is seeing a rare convergence of political climate, public concern, and capacity to make meaningful changes in the next few years — and those changes will be led by the states. We’re taking on some of our biggest campaigns ever to pass bold policies that will make Colorado a leader for the nation.
We’ve come up with a vision for the future that serves as a clear call for our leaders to make meaningful policies in 2019 and beyond to protect Colorado’s environment. It includes:
- Putting a limit on carbon pollution and advancing clean energy innovation
- Electrifying and cleaning up our transportation sector
- Safeguarding communities from oil and gas development
- Keeping water in our rivers and ensuring our drinking water healthy
- Protecting public lands and wilderness for all Coloradans
With your help, we can continue to grow our movement and make Colorado’s future one that we’re proud to leave as our legacy. Donate before the end of the year to support our vision for the future and become a part of the fight!
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