Written by Jim Masure

Conservation Colorado’s Greater Sage Grouse Tour offers photographers a unique opportunity to capture very special inhabitants of our earth –  the Greater sage grouse.  The tours take place on a “ lek”, which is an ancestral strutting ground which the birds instinctively return year after year. I was fortunate to take two trips in three years and would love to do it again. Taking a camera and photographing these nearly-extinct birds will make you realize how important the earthly elements are to survival. Watching the birds through my lens, it is dramatically evident how important our environment is to us all.

If you are lucky enough to go on tour, here are my top five tips for photographers (and grouse watchers):

1. Dress warmly:

Sage grouse tour participants bundle upIt is winter and you should expect to be cold.  But trust me, at the end of the day, your senses will be rewarded with such a special event and you will tell the story over and over.  Be ready for  a great adventure — the staff will greet you and be very upbeat even with the very early morning. They will drive out of Craig some 30 miles or more as these special birds need a lot of space.  So bring your best attitude for this new adventure and be ready to go.

2. Bring a long lens if you’ve got one:

The bird itself is stunning with its umbrella of feathers and unique color patterns. Huge bags protrude from under its bill and bounce when making the mating call. I have a 400 prime lens and use a tripod for the bird shots as it is very dark at the start of this event.  If hand holding a camera, crank the ISO up to get the shutter speed a little faster and open the aperture as big as one can get.

3. No flashing the sage grouse:

No flash photography is allowed. Flashes of light send the grouse flying away, you will walk home early, and the fellow guests may not let you back in the car for the ride home.

4. It’s not all about long lenses:

Sure, that’s the lens for the Greater sage grouse, but the landscape and vistas will be just as amazing. Go with whatever lens you have and enjoy this special experience.  As the sun rises it will become clear that the vistas are just as amazing. In addition to sage grouse, photographers will most likely see other important species of the sagebrush – like elk, mule deer, pronghorn antelope – all of which need healthy sagebrush to survive.

5. Take time to absorb the sage grouse experience:

Greater sage grouse survive in huge expanses of sagebrush, which is disappearing with oil and gas roads, pesticides, and other human caused disturbances on our open spaces. Try this trick: pinch a few sprigs of sage between your fingers and just smell the aroma of the west. It will stop you in your tracks just long enough to be in the moment.  Without clean water, air, and a few other things that let us live here, neither you and me, nor the Greater sage grouse, can survive.

Now that you have tips to take great images while on tour, please consider sharing images and your support for our work to save the sage grouse on social media!

#SageGrouse
#COpolitics

View the amazing images by following Conservation Colorado on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Written by Scott Braden, Wilderness and Public Lands Advocate

Last month’s designation of Browns Canyon National Monument was a tremendous victory for conservation and for Coloradans. We know that conservation of our public lands is a core value; in a recent Colorado College poll, 82% of Westerners believe that it’s very important to conserve and protect natural areas for future generations. We have a deeply held belief that ties our iconic Colorado landscape very closely to our identity as Coloradans, and that translates into a care for the land that extends to protecting what we have to share with those yet to come.

Browns Canyon was designated a national monument by President Obama using his authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act, a tool used by most American presidents since it was first wielded by Theodore Roosevelt to protect Devils Tower in Wyoming. Since that time, it has been used to protect monuments large and small, places cultural and wild, including the Grand Canyon, Grand Tetons and our own Dinosaur National Monument.

A bipartisan group of Colorado elected officials has been trying to protect Browns Canyon in Congress for over a decade, with notable attempts by former Republican Congressman Joel Hefley and former Senator Ken Salazar. Most recently former Senator Mark Udall sponsored a bill to designate Browns a national monument. Despite strong local support and great effort by these lawmakers, politics and an often dysfunctional Congress stymied these efforts. This is why, last December, Senator Michael Bennet and Governor John Hickenlooper joined Mark Udall in calling on President Obama to use his authority to get the job done. Although often controversial, use of the Antiquities Act to protect American lands is a routine and appropriate path to protection.

Congressman Doug Lamborn was quick to decry the designation of Browns, tossing out his tired talking point that there was insufficient consensus, that local voices were ignored. The truth is, over 500 people in December showed up for a public meeting in Salida to show their support, while  U.S.Representative  Lamborn didn’t even bother to attend.

Browns Canyon National Monument is just the latest in a string of conservation wins, driven by our Colorado ethic of caring for our wildlands and open spaces.  Late last year, Congress got off it’s proverbial rear end and passed the bipartisan Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act. This mountain stream, near Durango, now boasts over 100,000 protected acres , including the 37,000 acre Hermosa Creek Wilderness. The victory was due in no small part to  a committed grassroots-driven effort that brought stakeholders together, united in common purpose to conserve these lands for future generations.

Finally, last year a legal settlement in the courts brokered protection for the summit of Northwest Colorado’s wildlife-rich Roan Plateau, drawing a protracted legal battle to a close, with all parties agreeing that the mesa top must be protected from drilling.

Three conservation victories, each accomplished differently. Browns through executive action, Hermosa through Congress, and Roan Plateau through our system of courts. Each is a legitimate means in service to protecting our Colorado natural legacy. Each speaks to the imagination and flexibility of the stakeholders involved to find a path forward, sometimes even when the odds weren’t good.

These conservation victories speak to a “Colorado way” of getting things done to protect our public lands treasures. They each involved listening to stakeholders and the public, collaboration, and principled compromise. But in the end, all participants involved in each process bought in to the notion that we could work together, talk together and chart the future of our forests and public lands.

Your Wilderness Advocate,

Scott Braden

Written by Micha Rosenoer, Southwest Field Organizer

New Years resolutions can be hard to stick to sometimes, but here in Southwestern Colorado, celebrating the recent passage of the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act with some backcountry skiing, mountain biking, and fly fishing will be an easy one to keep! We hope you’ll join us in getting outside to enjoy Southwest Colorado’s brand new wilderness area during the coming months.

On December 19, 2014, President Obama signed into law permanent protections for the Hermosa Creek watershed, putting the final touches on a six year community-led process to protect 170 square miles of land just north of Durango. That same day, the local community celebrated our successful multi-year effort with Rep. Tipton and Sen. Bennet in style. We raised our glasses to this exceptional feat of bipartisanship, community coordination and consensus, as well as the years of patience, negotiation, and hard work that brought these protections to fruition.

To everyone who made phone calls, wrote letters, signed petitions, spoke up in meetings, attended events, and promised to keep doing the good (and sometimes trying) work necessary to protect Hermosa – THANK YOU! We couldn’t have done it without you. Our efforts to protect the Hermosa Creek watershed may even serve as a model of how to successfully preserve and protect our most cherished natural places for years to come. Everyone involved deserves a big hug, some fresh powder, and a long nap.

In the end, the bill protected 108,000 acres of land surrounding Hermosa Creek, including nearly 38,000 acres of new wilderness. Additionally, the bill closed Lake Nighthorse, Horse Gulch, Animas Mountain, and Perins Peak – key recreational and wildlife areas surrounding Durango – to any future drilling or mining. These areas will now provide crucial protected habitat for local species of elk, deer, and cutthroat trout, as well as places for us to fish, hunt, hike, backpack, snowmobile, and mountain bike together for years to come.

Please join us in thanking Congressman Tipton and Senator Bennet for their incredible leadership on Hermosa Creek, and stay tuned for opportunities to get out and play in the  Hermosa area with us soon.

Wondering what’s next on the southwestern agenda? In the short term, we’ll be working to protect our American heritage from fringe efforts at the state legislature to seize our national public lands and even auction them off to the highest bidder – be sure to keep your eyes and ears open for ways to engage on this important issue. Also, we’ll be looking into ways to protect even more of our treasured lands in the San Juan Mountains. In the meantime, enjoy this huge community accomplishment regarding Hermosa Creek, and pat each other on the back. You deserve it!

Your Southwest Organizer,
Micha Rosenoer

Written by Sarah White

2014 has been a successful year for Conservation Colorado. From working with our elected officials to pass critical environmental legislation, to knocking doors to get out the vote, and organizing on college campuses, in Latino communities, and in cities all across the state, we’ve accomplished big things for Colorado.

It would be pretty hard to point out all of the things that we’re proud of, but we wanted to highlight the BIG ones. Here are our top 10 accomplishments of 2014.

10. We won a decade long battle

The ten year long battle to protect the Roan Plateau is finally over. The conservation community finally won the fight to keep the 54,000 acre Roan Plateau from becoming an industrial zone.

9. We had a year long party!

This year marked the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, and boy, did we celebrate. We held events across the state from July to November to raise awareness about the 3.6 million acres of Colorado’s most sublime wildlands that are set aside as wilderness areas.

8. We held industry accountable

In April we were thrilled to help pass legislation that will finally clean up groundwater contamination in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Canon City. After 30 years of pollution and indifference from Cotter Corporation, Coloradans living in its shadow were finally granted the right to clean water and use of their own water wells.

7. Introducing….Protégete!

This year, Conservation Colorado launched Protégete: Our Air, Our Health. It is an important and timely effort to engage the Latino community around the issues of clean air and climate change.

6. The EPA came to town & we responded with a day of action

This year we took a huge step toward addressing the challenge of climate change. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed national safeguards that aim to cut carbon pollution, One of just four hearings across the country was held right here in Colorado! Our coalition rallied over 250 Coloradans to testify at the hearings and came out on top — an overwhelming majority of the testimonies showed support of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

5. 42 wins for conservation

It wasn’t easy, but after one of the toughest election seasons yet, the conservation community helped elect 42 pro-conservation candidates to the Colorado state legislature. With the help of our staff and volunteers, we knocked doors, made phone calls, created mail pieces, landed on people’s Facebook newsfeeds, and crafted radio ads to promote our conservation champions and help them to victory.

4. Colorado made history (in a good way)

Colorado sent a strong message to the nation in February – that every person deserves to breathe clean air. With your support, and after a year-long ground campaign, Colorado’s Air Quality Control Commission passed groundbreaking, first in the nation rules that directly regulate methane pollution from oil and gas facilities.

3. Huge steps for water

Up until now, we have been the only state in the west without a State Water Plan (yikes!). But that’s about to change. On December 10, the first draft of this groundbreaking plan was released — and it will be finalized in a year. This plan will address the “gap” between our available water supply and our demand and we have worked every step of the way to ensure that the Governor keeps his work and puts conservation first.

2. Hey, President Obama! This land needs protection

Conservation Colorado has worked with U.S. Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet for years to designate Browns Canyon as a national monument. This month, we brought this beautiful 22,000 acres of public lands around the Arkansas River to the forefront of President Obama’s attention and are optimistic that he will take the next step to finally protect Browns Canyon once and for all.

1. YOU

Conservation Colorado works hard to protect the land, air, and water of our beautiful state for YOU, our members. We are proud to have a growing membership of dedicated Coloradans who are willing to take action and support the work that will ensure clean air, healthy flowing waters, and protected lands for years to come. We do this work because we believe that it is your right to enjoy the outdoors as you see fit, without restrictions from out-of-state special interests and polluting industries. We do this work because of YOU.

We can’t do any of this without your support — please consider making a year end donation to Conservation Colorado.

Written by Luke Schafer, West Slope Advocacy Director

A little over 10 years ago, I was a newly minted college graduate, completely unsure of what I wanted to do with my life other than knowing that I wanted to live in a place where wild things still existed.  I somehow scored an interview with the Colorado Wilderness Network for a job in Craig.  I scoured the then still seemingly primitive internet to figure out some sort of background information so I could disguise my ignorance.

One thing kept popping up again and again, Roan Plateau.  The same verbiage of deep woods laced with streams and critter filled meadows abounded. The descriptions and pictures were amazing, truly a place for the wild things I was seeking. Streams teeming with native trout; waterfalls cascading over cliffs; lush hanging gardens soaking in the spray; aspen glades echoing the bugle of bull elk–all of these scenes accurately depict the Roan Plateau.  I, of course, tried to work Roan Plateau into every available opportunity into my interview, which wasn’t terribly applicable since the job was to work on Vermillion Basin and other areas in far Northwest Colorado.  A few weeks later I was packing up and moving west, eager to protect places like the Roan.

Despite being completely different ecosystems and Vermillion suffering a serious attention deficiency in comparison to Roan, the places are close relatives.  They are both lines in the sand that the Colorado and national conservation communities made: they are places that were too wild to drill and places where we will fight until they are permanently protected. In large part, the protections gained so far for Vermillion were possible because of the Roan Plateau.

The efforts around the Roan Plateau have been a game changer in so many ways.  While the Colorado conservation community had united against Two Forks Dam in the foothills near Denver, it hadn’t really ever made a collective stand on a public land issue and let alone a public land issue on the rural West Slope. The Roan was the rallying point for Prius-driving environmentalists from Boulder and tobacco-chewing sportsman from Meeker and everyone in between. It wasn’t simply a NIMBY reaction, it was a collective recognition that we need places like Roan Plateau to exist for our own sake.

Along the way, people from coast to coast began to learn about the island in the sea of development, about the abundant wildlife, rare plants and scenery under siege on the Roan Plateau. All these disparate groups were working together to elevate the issue on a national stage with an ideal held in common—protect the top of the plateau.

Recently, a deal which cancels nearly all of the oil and gas leases on the top of the Plateau was announced. It’s more than just a victory for the actual plateau. It was a reaffirmation in both standing your ground as well as reaching out to work with others.  Over the years the influence of this collective approach has been felt in places like Vermillion Basin, Hoback Junction, WY, the Rocky Mountain Front in Montana and hopefully, soon with the Greater sage grouse all across the West.

So while we celebrate this step in realizing protections for Roan and the promotion of responsible development, I and plenty more of my colleagues at Conservation Colorado and elsewhere will carry on what I think is the Roan’s real legacy, uniting the disparate interests that give a damn and continue to fight for Colorado’s future.

Your West Slope Advocacy Director,

Luke

Written by Sarah White

What’s the fuss about a funny little bird that boogies? Why do they matter? Why should we save sage grouse?

Greater sage grouse are found only in North America and much like their smaller, even more imperiled cousin the Gunnison sage-grouse, they are on a path to extinction.  In 2010, they became candidates for protection as an endangered species. It’s not always easy to see why one admittedly odd bird warrants our attention. Turns out saving sage grouse benefits more than the bird. Here are the Top 6 Reasons to save sage grouse:

1. Restores Balance to the Land

Sage grouse are suffering because things are out of balance. We need better land management to restore the balance between wildlife habitat and oil and gas drilling.

2. Brings People Together

We have a common problem: a landscape and a species dependent on it are at risk. Just like the sage grouse, we are dependent on this same ecosystem for recreation, ranching, oil and gas development, etc. This requires people from all walks of life to work together to create effective and enforceable plans that protect the best remaining habitat – plans based on science, not politics.

3. Protects Ranching

Ranch lands and wildlife habitat are often one and the same. Pronghorn and sage grouse share the land with cows. Sage grouse conservation is providing ranchers with new incentives, grazing techniques and funding opportunities that can enhance their operations while also restoring habitat and putting sage grouse on the path to recovery.

4. Benefits other Wildlife

Sage grouse are an important part of the web of life in the West. When we protect habitat for sage grouse, we protect habitat for hundreds of other animals including elk, deer, and antelope, creating a cascade effect for conservation.

5. Supports a Vibrant, Diverse Economy

Once sage grouse provided a source of protein for families and while hunting does happen in some areas, more and more grouse are proving a reason for tourists to visit western communities. In 2013, over 100 people visited Craig, Colorado paying to stay in hotels, consuming 200-300 meals and spending money on fuel and supplies as a result of Conservation Colorado’s grouse tours.

6. Provides a Guarantee for Future Generations

By protecting sage grouse now when the species is still healthy enough to recover, then we ensure that these amazing birds and the wild landscapes upon which they depend, are here for future generations to value and enjoy.

We have a responsibility to leave the world a better place for future generations and that means being good stewards of the land and protecting habitat for all wildlife.

Folks at BLM have been working hard to create a plan to save sage grouse and they need your encouragement to ensure the plan includes the most proactive measures and best science.

 

Do you recall when you were little and were asked “what would you like to be when you grow-up?” At age 3 my answer was that I wanted to grow-up to be a “black stallion.” My love of horses went so deep as for me to desire to be as strong, beautiful & free-spirited as are the wild horses that roam far northwest Colorado.

Pat Mantle was my hero for the simple fact that he owned, what seemed then to be, the most horses in the whole world. As an adult I learned that the Mantles settled in the area now known as Dinosaur National Monument. The Mantle ranch in Hell’s Canyon along the Yampa River was the headquarters for their horse and cattle operation. Horse-whispers before the term was coined, the Mantles would round-up the wild mustangs that still thrive in the region and tame them to the saddle for sale back East or for use in the family’s Sombrero Stables dude and trail horse operation.

The Mantle ranch remains the only private inholding within the over 200,000 acres of Dinosaur National Monument. Their story is recounted by Queeda Mantle Walker in her books, “The Mantle Ranch” & “Last Ranch in Hells Canyon.” The Monument is usually better known for the 80 acre dinosaur quarry in Utah. Those 80 acres were expanded 75 years ago, protecting landscapes far beyond the bones and including lands that surround the historic Mantle ranch. The expansion created friction between the Mantle family and the National Park Service, but it also preserved a culturally and environmentally important part of our State.

You can see the canyons and rivers and historic ranches of Dinosaur National Monument by joining us on one of our Beyond the Bones Tours.The next tour is as on August 25th. The tour is free, but we do require registration to assist in logistics. Please register by this Friday August 23rd.

The drive on August 25th will take us out on the Harper’s Corner Road, down to Echo Park along the river and then out across the Yampa Bench Road where we will have the chance to see the Mantle ranch at Hell’s Canyon.

For me this place is as close to sacred ground as it gets. The place where my family played and where my personal western heroes scrapped-out a living by taming the abundant wild horses. I will be joined by a handful of local characters who are as eager to share their stories as I am to share more of mine.  We hope you’ll join us Beyond the Bones!

Your Field Organizer,

Sasha Nelson

Check out these links for more information: 

Written by Sarah White

Colorado is known for its diverse and unique landscapes and Coloradans take pride in the fact that we have so many wild, beautiful places to play and explore. Conservation Colorado staff has seen a great deal of the state, so we like to think we have a pretty good idea on where to go to see the best of what Colorado wilderness has to offer.

In honor of  Great Outdoors America Week and our Celebration of Wilderness event with Congresswoman DeGette earlier this week, we asked our staff to share some of their favorite places to get outdoors. We encourage you to see these sites firsthand and find out why we hold them so near and dear to our hearts:

Scott Braden, our new Wilderness Advocate, has plenty of suggestions on amazing places to see in Colorado.  One of his favorite getaways is  Yampa River Canyon, Dinosaur National Monument in the Northwest corner of the state. The Yampa is close to Scott’s heart because it is the last wild and undammed river in the Colorado River system.  In Dinosaur National Monument the Yampa plunges into an unexpected serpentine canyon of sandstone, flowing swiftly towards its confluence with the Green River in Echo Park.

Becky Long, our Advocacy Director, prefers the lower Blue Valley in Silverthorne. It’s where her family ranch is and the area is absolutely amazing. The Gore Range, the Blue River, and the open ranchlands symbolize Colorado.

Petrika Peters, one of our Field Organizers in Grand Junction, loves the mountains on the western slope, but the San Juans have a special place carved out in her heart. It’s where she met her partner, fell in love, got married, and spent a special week with mountain goats as the sole visitor to her camp!

Sasha Nelson, another one of our Field Organizers in Craig, knows it’s difficult to narrow down the hundreds of amazing places on the millions of acres of Public Lands up in Northwest Colorado. One that stands out to her is Vermillion Basin, an area of around 100,000 acres, of “badlands” tucked away in far Northwest Colorado. Watching the clouds paint the vermilion bluffs is like seeing a watercolor in motion. What makes this place so magical is its mystery.

Beka Wilson, our Development Director, couldn’t pick just one. She suggests:

  • Gateway, Unaweep Canyon and The Monument.  It’s a great place to see the spectacular red rock, really fun bouldering and unbeatable stargazing!
  • Lost Creek Wilderness is close to the Front Range and is gorgeous!
  • Salida and Brown’s Canyon.  Salida has the best festivals and there is so much to do in around the Collegiate Peaks.
  • Mt Sneffels Wilderness by Telluride.  Best scenery in the state, hands down.

Ben Gregory, our tireless Finance and Operations Director, is all about the Pawnee Buttes for the big open sky and solitude.  Eastern Plains represent!

Our Denver field organizers have their favorite spots too, Becca Strelitz’s favorite place (which tends to change every time she discovers a new area of Colorado) is currently Crater Lakes in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. It is a relatively easy hike to the first of the lakes from the Moffat Tunnel and the encompass everything you’d imagine Colorado wilderness to entail.

What are your most cherished places to get outdoors in Colorado? We’d love to hear why you cherish our state’s wilderness. We love working to protect these amazing places and ensuring that future generations can continue to enjoy them in the same way as we do today.

Written by Sarah White

Earth Day is upon us today and we’re excited! We focus a lot of our efforts on the long-term conservation of Colorado’s beautiful lands and clean air. But today we celebrate what we can do right now help our environment.

These steps are simple, but they add up to create a massive impact on climate change in our state every single day. Now, we know you have been told to do some of these things before, but Earth Day is a day to remind ourselves that these steps are more important now than ever before.

1. Let’s start with the obvious: reduce, reuse, recycle:

Did you know that there’s an island in the Pacific Ocean that is the size of Texas and is completely made up of trash? Although we have made great progress, far too much of our everyday lives ends up harming our air, land, and water. We can all do our part by reducing what we consume, try and reuse as much as possible, and recycle the rest.  Every little bit helps reduce the amount of new, harmful chemicals that are introduced into the environment, helps us use energy more efficiently, and minimizes the land our landfills need.

2. Help preserve our water supply by conserving your water:

April snow has made us hopeful for a good snowpack this year, but years of drought have depleted Colorado’s reservoirs to the point where it’s going to take many years of above-average snowfall to bring them back to normal. So, how can you help? From your sink to your lawn, conserve your water usage.

3. Walk, ride your bike, use our great transportation system:

We all know that climate change is the problem of our age but want can an individual do?  The car you drive and how you choose to get around can have a huge impact on your energy consumption. Better yet, get out and enjoy our great Colorado weather;  ride your bike, walk, or take public transportation to help you get where you need to go.

4. Go outside this Earth Day:

No, seriously, go outside. How will that help? We hope the more time you spend exploring our beautiful state, the more passionate you’ll become about preserving it for future generations. Check out some of the areas we are working to protect. But remember, take only pictures and leave only footprints.

5. Get involved with your elected officials:

Final self plug: we have made this step easy for you; Take an Action. Tell your local legislators why you are concerned and what they can do to get your support. Our vast landscapes, wildlife, rivers, and our tremendous outdoor opportunities help define our beautiful state. Any day a lawmaker hears from a constituent is a day that he or she must think a little longer about the impacts that his or her decisions have.  Check out our latest Actions and send your elected official a message that you care about protecting Colorado!