The Central Mountains Region is rich in history, culture, and natural beauty. And the issues it faces are as diverse as the landscapes it spans.
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.
DENVER — Governor Jared Polis today announced an executive order to protect iconic Colorado wildlife and the landscapes they call home, aimed at conserving western landscapes and big game species for future generations. Gov. Polis’ order means Colorado will prioritize, coordinate and focus on protecting the traditional migration corridors of Rocky Mountain elk, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, mountain goats, bighorn sheep and moose.
Specifically, the executive order directs:
- Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) to compile a status report of wildlife migration and associated science by the end of the calendar year;
- Colorado Department of Natural Resources to identify policy, regulatory or legislative opportunities to ensure the ongoing conservation of seasonal habitat and migration corridors;
- CPW to incorporate the importance of migration corridors into public education and outreach efforts; and,
- Colorado Department of Transportation to enable safe wildlife passage and reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions.
The order will remain in effect until May 1, 2023 unless modified or rescinded prior to that date.
Conservation groups released the following statements in response:
“The health of our wild spaces and wildlife are a measure of the health of our state. Governor Polis campaigned on a pledge to ‘keep Colorado wild.’ Today’s executive order is a first step in delivering on that promise to ensure that Colorado remains wild for future generations.”
– Kelly Nordini, executive director, Conservation Colorado
“Colorado’s wildlife are a key part of our state’s heritage and our outdoor way of life. This executive order will help Colorado balance our state’s rapid growth with the increasing need to safeguard our wildlife by helping to keep their habitats and corridors protected and connected. We applaud Governor Polis for taking action and look forward to continued partnership to enact this measure.”
– Rachael Hamby, Western lands policy analyst, Western Resource Advocates
“These wild places are vital for birds to thrive, taking cover in the winter and stopping over as they migrate. The protections that Governor Polis has set in motion through this Order will benefit many species and set important standards throughout the state.”
– Nada Culver, Vice President for Public Lands, National Audubon Society
“The Colorado Sierra Club applauds the Governor for taking bold action to protect wildlife and our Colorado heritage. Thanks to Governor Polis, Colorado is taking key steps to better understand and protect the historical migration pathways of the animals.”
– Jim Alexee, director, Colorado Sierra Club
“We humans share this beautiful state with the wildlife, plants, insects, and birds that are part of nature. The efforts of Governor Polis to protect the wildlife and their habitats through the designation and maintenance of wildlife corridors will enhance the quality of life for us all. These corridors will ensure that future generations will experience the rich diversity of animal life that we do.”
– Sherry Schenk, Public Lands Committee member, Western Colorado Alliance
“Colorado’s leadership in advocating for protection of wildlife corridors is more important than ever before . In southwest Colorado, the most critical wildlife corridor for lynx in the state is at risk from a massive real estate development atop Wolf Creek Pass. We look forward to working with state agencies to make the Governor’s vision a reality.”
– Mark Pearson, executive director, San Juan Citizens Alliance
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.”
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)
- 18 Senators had a perfect score.
- The lowest scores were Senators Chris Holbert, Vicki Marble, and Jim Smallwood at 0 percent each.
- 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.
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.
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.”
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