Written by: Sara Penilla Montoya, Promotora and Protégete Intern

Too often, the youngest members of our society are left without a seat at the decision-making table.

We’ve been told that we are “too young,” “not educated enough,” or “not mature enough” to understand the issues that we see everyday in our schools, our neighborhoods, and our homes.  We’re discouraged from actively engaging in our communities, stifling our collective voice and the positive changes that we want to make to improve our future.

That still hasn’t stopped today’s generation from standing up together, raising our voices, and declaring how significant it is to be a part of change.

The environmental movement is the perfect example to show how children, teens, and youth — the people that will wrestle with climate impacts for generations to come — are stepping up to defend their future. The conservation movement poses an immense opportunity for young people, especially for people from frontline communities, to express the need for powerful climate leadership — and that’s why I was so excited to attend the Rising Leaders training in Washington, DC.

At the League of Conservation Voters training, students from all over the country learned more about the most pressing environmental issues affecting our communities and how storytelling can be a tool to lobby decision-makers at the state and federal levels.

Four students from the Protégete team experienced firsthand the importance and power our personal stories hold as we lobbied with members of Congress from Colorado. For some students, the trip was their first visit to our country’s capital.

We took the chance to talk to elected officials about the issues that are not only impacting our lives, but the livelihoods of millions of Americans. The stories shared a common message: it’s time for climate action, for us, our environment, and future generations.

Xioana, 16: Protecting Future Generations


Xioana stands with a statue of Rosa Parks, the only statue of a woman of color in the Capitol.

“When I was 13 years old, my family and I made the move from Caracas, Venezuela, to Denver, Colorado. My country has historically been lauded the most prosperous in South America; we had a booming economy that enticed immigration from around the world, and we welcomed everyone. That is, until political corruption changed everything.

My family saw firsthand how economic unrest had unimaginable ramifications on every aspect of peoples’ lives, including great environmental justice implications. My grandfather not only struggled for financial stability, but for access to water. He can barely afford to take just a few showers a year, due to drought exacerbated by climate change.

I remember my first day of school [in the United States]. I was walking through the hallways, fascinated by the fact that I had a locker, that breakfast was free, and that people gave away pencils. I realized that the opportunities I craved for so long were finally within my reach.

Too often, we waste our potential and decrease our value in the eyes of society; but the beauty of our ephemeral existence is that if we realize it soon enough, we can learn to appreciate the little things.

I come from a place where corruption is abundant while food, water, and electricity are insufficient. While spending thirteen years of my life in this place, I never realized how much I was being deprived, because it is easy to be satisfied with what you have when you have never known any better. In my young eyes, America’s only great value was that it snowed every now and then. I never imagined this to be the place of freedom and opportunities. The place that I come from is falling apart as I write this and losing its values as you read it. The reality is that while some people can escape this fate, others cannot. I was one of the lucky ones.

Xioana shares her story with Congresswoman Diana DeGette.

Since moving to Thornton, I have felt very fortunate that these difficulties are not an everyday reality for me and my mother. It’s why I want to join the Air Force when I graduate high school; I love this country, it’s my home and I want to keep it safe. But I need my politicians to keep me safe, too. I live right on the outskirts of Commerce City, a municipality that is known for its high concentration of industries and hardworking communities of color. These factories, including a refinery located a mere five miles from my house, cause profound health impacts on the children growing up near them.

I went to Washington D.C. to tell our members of Congress that I am the future of this country and they need to protect me.”

I am young, an immigrant, Latina, and powerful. I am the face of the United States, and I believe everyone deserves a healthy environment.

Eunice, 16: Working Together to Stop Climate Change


Eunice at the Lincoln Memorial.

“This past year, I’ve been a part of the Leadership Development class at The New America School in Thornton. My teacher, Zoraida Martinez, partnered with Protégete to teach us about environmental justice and civic engagement. We learned about how the impacts of climate change are made worse because of the waste that we create — a lot of which could be diverted by recycling or composting.

For example, when we throw plastic into the garbage, it can end up as harmful pollution in the ocean or contaminating the water and soil of our communities. Because plastic can’t biodegrade, it sits in landfills and contaminate the places where we live. That is why it is so important for everyone to do their part in protecting our planet.

I had never gotten involved in politics before; as an immigrant from Mexico, I didn’t think it was my place. But Ms. Martinez and Protégete helped me realize how powerful my classmates and I are.

When we saw that our school did not have access to recycling services, we created our own program: we made recycling bins, taught the student body how to sort waste, collected all of the recycling and took it to a processing facility every two weeks. We also went to city council meetings to ask our local elected officials to help us continue this work.

And we were heard! I felt like I was putting my grain of sand in solving this huge problem, but I can’t do this alone.

That is why I went to DC to ask our federal representatives to hold polluting industries accountable. It is imperative for the government and factories to work together with regular people, like me, to stop climate change and keep Mother Earth safe.”

Eric, 22: An Exchange of Ideas


Eric in Senator Michael Bennet’s office, building a connection over attending the same school as Bennet’s daughter.

“Participating in the Rising Leaders training was a great experience. I had never been to Washington, D.C. before, and there were so many different things I was able to learn from that place, from how city infrastructure can impact our communities and our climate, to how important our stories truly are.

We frequently used public transportation (which I realized was cheaper and more efficient than our system in Denver) and discussed how communities and air quality can benefit from more public transit options.

The opportunity to learn about how important our voices are — and how we can use our stories to lobby our elected officials — was eye-opening. While I had visited the state Capitol in Colorado before, I didn’t fully understand the importance of personal stories and how they can illuminate why work needs to be done for everyone to live in an equitable world.

When we can tie these issues to ourselves — to real people, and even those who we are lobbying to — we better understand the gravity of the situation and know that we really do need to make changes.”

Our voices are what is going to shape how we solve the issues affecting us today. We shouldn’t be afraid to use our power to tell our elected officials to help us implement changes now.

Sara, 19: A Passion for the Future


“My passion for the environment is something that I have carried with me since I migrated to the United States from Colombia. It led me to a path of being what most people would call an “environmentalist:” recycling every piece of plastic and paper, turning off the lights in every room when they were not being used.

When I turned 15, I started volunteering with Protégete and learned that being an environmentalist meant so much more. I became aware of the environmental conditions in my community and those surrounding it were not what they needed to be: clean, healthy, and accessible. Such is the case for most communities of color and lower-income communities around our country. We have an obligation to these communities and others who are most impacted by environmental degradation to take care of our planet.

Sara sits outside Senator Bennet’s office.

The Rising Leaders and lobbying experience was extremely empowering. It constantly feels as if my community’s voice isn’t considered or heard when it comes to issues directly affecting us. But when I visited my elected officials to tell them why I am so passionate about these issues and what actions they can take to support my community, I was reminded how strong my community’s voice is.”

Although some of us can’t go to DC to lobby every day, we still have the power to make a change for the better. I hope that with this experience, I can motivate other young people to speak up so we can use our voices together to continue to tell our elected officials to take action to save our environment and people.

Taking part in this trip, including its trainings, and lobbying helped us realize that our voice is as strong as it could ever be, no matter how old we are or what limitations others impose on us. We can make a change in this world and we are the leaders of today. Encouraging the youth to be engaged in the issues that affect our community is essential, so just like us, they realize the importance their voice holds, and the power they have to advocate for themselves, and everyone else being silenced.

If you were inspired by our stories or if you would like to learn more about Protégete and Promotorxs programs, please click here or contact Patricia Ferrero at patricia@conservationco.org.

GRAND JUNCTION, COLORADO — Today, the Department of the Interior officially announced that it plans to relocate the Bureau of Land Management headquarters to Grand Junction.

In response, Erin Riccio, Western Slope field organizer with Conservation Colorado, released the following statement:

“It’s no surprise the Bureau of Land Management wants to relocate to Grand Junction. With a fantastic quality of life supported by our stunning public lands, the location is a no-brainer.

“We’re among the many residents in Grand Junction who are excited about this news that will benefit the local economy and bring employees closer to some of the lands they manage. However, moving the BLM headquarters to Grand Junction won’t actually protect our treasured landscapes as long as the Trump administration’s ‘energy dominance’ agenda is in place. At every opportunity, this administration and its supporters have gutted public input processes and dodged transparency requirements, even going so far as to allow drilling permits during January’s government shutdown.

“It is also worth noting that Senator Cory Gardner, who took credit for this move, continues to serve as a cheerleader for President Trump’s anti-conservation agenda. He voted time and time again to cut West Slope residents and Coloradans out of land management decisions, open treasured landscapes to drilling, and remains the only Colorado Senator to never sponsor a Colorado wilderness bill.

“We’re excited that the BLM is coming to Grand Junction. But regardless of where the BLM calls home, Coloradans want a fair public process with a more comprehensive lands management focus than the ‘energy dominance’ agenda of the Trump administration and Senator Gardner.”

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Today, Conservation Colorado released its 2019 Conservation Scorecard, an annual look at how every state legislator voted on key environmental bills during the recent legislative session. The scorecard provides Coloradans with the information they need to ensure their elected officials reflect Coloradans’ values, including protections for our air, land, water, and communities.

“Colorado’s 2019 legislative session was historic by any measure,” said Kelly Nordini, executive director of Conservation Colorado. “From climate action and clean energy to oil and gas reforms to protecting our lands, water, and wildlife, this year’s scorecard provides an accounting of who helped and hindered Colorado’s progress.”

Here are top-line results from the Scorecard:

Key votes scored include:

  • Colorado’s Climate Action Plan (HB1261)
  • Comprehensive Oil and Gas Reform (SB181)
  • EV Utility and Tax Credits (HB1159 and SB77)
  • Hard-Rock Mining Reform (HB1113)
  • Conservation Easement Improvements (HB1264)
  • Promoting a Just Transition (HB1314)

Senate

  • 18 Senators had a perfect score.
  • The lowest scores were Senators Chris Holbert, Vicki Marble, and Jim Smallwood at 0 percent each.

House

  • 36 members had a perfect score.
  • The lowest scores were Representatives Mark Baisley, Susan Beckman, Perry Buck, Tim Geitner, Stephen Humphrey, Kimmi Lewis, Lori Saine, Shane Sandridge, and Dave Williams at 0 percent each.

Nordini continued: “This year, the Colorado legislature passed commonsense policies that were years in the making. At a time when the stakes could not be higher, Colorado’s new elected leaders produced results that will protect our state for years to come.”

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.

Yesica Chavez, Student Coordinator at Environmental Learning for Kids

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.

Protégete joined students and faculty at the University of Colorado Denver (UCD) to investigate microscale particulate pollution in Globeville and Elyria-Swansea—two communities with a long history of environmental injustice.

I write as the enthusiastically wide-eyed recent addition to Conservation Colorado. My name is Koki Atcheson and I graduated from Colorado College this May with a BA in Environmental Science: Integrated and a minor in Education. I am so grateful to the Public Interest Fellowship Program and Conservation Colorado for this opportunity to start as a Communications Fellow.

I accepted a position in Colorado, far from my home base in Honolulu, Hawaii, because I recognize the state of Colorado as a national leader in advancing pro-environmental policies, public lands protections, renewable energy, and clean air and water for all people. I draw inspiration from Colorado’s green spaces of all sizes and the energy of city planners and community members working in partnership with nature. I see hope and great potential in the conservation movement, and I am eager to join a team who works relentlessly toward a better future for our environment and our people.

Once I walked through Conservation Colorado’s doors, I did not wait long to experience advocacy work firsthand. Moments after finding my desk, I listened in on a tele-press conference detailing Senator Cory Gardner’s voting history, and the implications of his anti-environmental votes. This was my introduction to what it means to hold elected officials accountable.

Senator Gardner has failed to fulfill his advertised commitments to renewable energy and the environment. Between 2015 and 2018 he voted against the environment 85 percent of the time. This record does not honor the conservationist identity that I share with 69 percent of Coloradans.

Reading Conservation Colorado’s report of Senator Gardner’s voting history, I was most upset to see that he has made surface-level claims of pro-environmental beliefs without stepping up as a leader in climate policy, sponsoring a wilderness bill, or consistently voting to secure the best interests of Colorado’s people and environment. These findings reinforce the necessity of digging deeper than political candidates’ promotional materials, and making this information easily accessible.

In Colorado, pro-conservation elected officials accurately represent the values and needs of residents. Pro-conservation actions promote public health through policies that minimize displacement and pollution, and maximize green spaces for all. In this way they are a vehicle for justice, and can work to counteract centuries of environmental racism.

Senator Gardner has an immense opportunity to represent Coloradan values and leave a positive legacy for the state he serves through working to advance clean energy, fully sponsor conservation bills, and protect the wilderness areas that keep Colorado wild.

If Colorado hopes to remain a proud champion for our environment, all of our elected officials must step up and boldly pursue action that honors our state’s human and natural needs. In my time as a Communications Fellow at Conservation Colorado, I look forward to learning from a wealth of mentors who are doing the political work to sculpt an equitable, environmentally connected future.

DENVER – Today, Conservation Colorado released a new report called “How Senator Cory Gardner’s Green Bonafides are in the Red” detailing the Senator’s failure to stand up for Colorado’s environment and way of life. From climate change to public lands to administrative nominees, the report assesses Gardner’s votes on the environment, highlights five instances of issues on which he is out of touch with Coloradans, and provides concrete examples of where Gardner’s media narrative does not match his voting record.

Specifically, the report finds that Gardner:

  • Voted against the environment in 85 percent of key votes; and,
  • Voted five times to block limits on carbon pollution, seven times to protect billions in subsidies for fossil fuels, seven times to undermine scientific reviews, and 10 times to make it harder to establish or enforce environmental protections; and,
  • Is out of step with Coloradans’ opinions on a suite of conservation issues.

Senator Gardner’s failure to stand up for our environment has real impacts for Coloradans across the state. Conservation leaders and citizens released the following statements in response:

“Senator Gardner’s voting record is unacceptable. He ran on promises to protect our land, air, water, and communities and he has failed to deliver on nearly all of those promises. Even worse, when faced with climate change — the defining issue of our time — he refused to step up and lead. Senator Gardner is running out of time to reflect Colorado values and should change direction before it’s too late.”
– Jessica Goad, deputy director, Conservation Colorado

“When he was first elected, Senator Gardner promised Coloradans that he would be ‘a new kind of Republican.’ Sadly, the ground he broke was becoming the only Colorado senator of either party since 1964 not to sponsor a single wilderness bill. Coloradans deserve a leader who truly fights for our clean air and water, public lands, and diverse communities.”
– Pete Maysmith, senior vice president of campaigns, League of Conservation Voters

“Adams County is doing our part to fight climate change, but we can’t do it alone. Our federal leaders, including Senator Gardner, should look to Colorado’s example when it comes to protecting our lands, reducing methane pollution, and combating climate change. Coloradans know we don’t have time to waste; Colorado leaders should heed their call.”
– Commissioner Emma Pinter, Adams County

“Politics isn’t a game. Every refusal to stop a reckless drilling plan or address the climate crisis puts the livelihoods and future of Colorado families at risk. Hotter summers, altered growing seasons, and unpredictable snowpack are threats that farmers can’t afford. Please, Senator Gardner: step up and lead.”
– Mark Waltermire, owner, Thistle Whistle Farms in Hotchkiss, CO

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.

A group of people after a day of work with the Rocky Mountain Conservancy

The Rocky Mountain Conservancy

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.

Six people stand on a trail

Rocky Mountain Field Institute

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.

Ralph Lefthandbull sings and blesses Colorado Public Lands Day participants

Ralph Lefthandbull sings and blesses Colorado Public Lands Day participants

The Front Range Conservation Colorado team and Protégete, alongside partners Volunteers for Outdoor ColoradoContinental Divide Trail CoalitionSierra 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.”​

Community organizer, Finangi, celebrates Colorado Public Lands Day with her daughter.

Community organizer, Finangi, celebrates Colorado Public Lands Day with her daughter.

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 performing a ski jump

Connor Ryan

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.

Cristal Cisneros sits in front of a lake

Cristal Cisneros

“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.”

Amanda Jameson

Amanda Jameson

“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.”