Written by Conservation Colorado staff
How do public lands sustain Colorado’s outdoor industry?
Over 90% of Coloradans participate in some form of outdoor recreation every year, and in 2012, Colorado’s national public lands hosted over 45 million visits. Demand for recreation in Colorado’s national parks surged in 2015, with Rocky Mountain National Park becoming the third most visited in the country, behind only Great Smoky Mountains NP and Grand Canyon NP. These visitors form the foundation for Colorado’s outdoor industry, a $13.2 billion industry employing over 125,000 Coloradans. This industry has made a such a notable impact on the state’s economic landscape and quality of life that Governor Hickenlooper recently created the Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry in response
Why are businesses choosing to advocate for public lands protection?
Outdoor companies see the connection between healthy, well-managed public lands, accessibility by all, and staying open for business. They know their voices add credibility to the public lands conservation, as decision makers appreciate a stakeholder community that includes representatives of economic concerns. By lending their voices and representing non-traditional conservation constituencies, businesses help broaden, diversify, and strengthen campaigns for public lands protections and the economic interests they sustain.
How do we know this works?
Many recent conservation victories exemplify this trend, with Colorado businesses playing pivotal roles in propelling campaigns to success. The Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act, which protected 108,000 acres of land for hunting, fishing, mountain biking, snowmobiling, hiking, and wildlife, relied on over 100 businesses that signed a letter of support for the bill. This conservation win was widely lauded for its success in uniting a diverse constituency and leveraging those voices to achieve a long sought-after goal. Decision makers recognized and respected that this conservation effort represented more than a coalition of conservationists, but rather a diverse array of voices from southwest Colorado, all with unique reasons for valuing a healthy, protected watershed.
This victory, alongside the drive to designate Browns Canyon National Monument, highlights the hallmarks of a modern, sophisticated, and successful conservation campaign – it must be stakeholder-driven and represent a diverse constituency of voices with myriad reasons for valuing public lands. Conservation Colorado and our coalition partners have continued to prioritize this in our ongoing efforts to pass the Continental Divide Wilderness and Recreation Act, introduced by Representative Jared Polis. That’s why businesses like John Land Le Coq’s Fishpond have spoken out in support. And Osprey founder and co-owner Diane Wren recently demonstrated similar leadership by supporting a comprehensive Master Leasing Plan on BLM land in southwest Colorado.
What issues will we be working on moving forward?
These campaigns have proven how pivotal business voices are in demonstrating to decision makers that public lands protections reflect the best interests of Colorado’s local economies and communities. Now is the time to capitalize on these victories and build a durable, notable public lands advocacy presence for Colorado’s outdoor industry. COBA will advocate for public lands protections on local, state, and federal levels, utilizing Conservation Colorado’s experience, relationships with policymakers, and ability to engage in electoral work to ensure policy decisions reflect the interests of local communities and the outdoor industry.
COBA and its members will focus their collective voice to support sensible, stakeholder-driven public lands protections that support a sustainable outdoor recreation industry by advocating for:
- National public lands under federal management and preventing public land seizure.
- Strong administrative protections for public lands through BLM and Forest Service planning processes, like the Eastern Colorado Resource Management Plan and Tres Rios Master Leasing Plan.
- Wilderness campaigns that reflect the diverse values of the recreation industry, like the Continental Divide Wilderness & Recreation Act.
- Well-protected, healthy rivers as the lynchpins of many outdoor communities and special landscapes.
How does COBA differ from other outdoor business alliances?
Conservation Colorado wields decades of experience developing relationships with elected officials at the local and state level, ensuring that COBA’s work complements the efforts of our allies and partners in this space.
Here are a few of our allies and how COBA fits with their work:
- Our partners at the Outdoor Industry Association leverage the weight of the national outdoor recreation economy to affect policy change on a broad array of issues ranging from international trade to manufacturing to economics. Public lands represent one piece of their work, and COBA will build on the strong partnership between OIA and Conservation Colorado by adding a more nimble complement to OIA’s presence in Colorado focused exclusively on public lands.
- Conservation Alliance works across the country to connect businesses with environmental issues by using membership dues to fund conservation efforts, including some of Conservation Colorado’s campaigns. Within Colorado, the Conservation Alliance hosts annual events to unite members and grantees and uses its voice on advocacy efforts. COBA brings Colorado businesses into the conversation, elevating their voices directly on the issue, and includes small businesses without the resources to contribute financially to support conservation.
- Outdoor Alliance works across the country on many of the same issues like public lands seizure. In doing so, it speaks for many segments of the outdoor recreation community, representing its membership of user groups like the Access Fund, American Whitewater, and the Colorado Mountain Bike Association. COBA complements OA’s work with outdoor recreation user groups by incorporating business and industry voices more directly into the conversation.
- The Colorado Advantage Business Council, a recent addition to the Colorado business and public lands advocacy space, focuses principally on engaging the high tech sector and other members of the emerging economy to highlight public lands as a competitive advantage. We’ll be working alongside each other to ensure that the outdoor industry has a similar presence.