Browns Canyon National Monument
The January 2015 designation of Browns Canyon as a 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 said they believe that it’s very important to conserve and protect natural areas for future generations. This deeply-held belief 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 for those generations yet to come.
A bipartisan group of Colorado elected officials tried 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 the area a a national monument. Despite strong local support and great effort by these lawmakers, politics and a dysfunctional Congress stymied these efforts. That’s why Senator Michael Bennet and Governor John Hickenlooper joined Senator Udall in calling on President Obama to use his authority to get the job done using his authority under the Antiquities Act.
Congressman Doug Lamborn was quick to decry the designation of Browns, relying on the tired talking point that there was insufficient consensus and that local voices were ignored. The truth is, over 500 people showed up for a public meeting in Salida to show their support, while 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 also passed the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act. This mountain stream near Durango 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.
And a recent 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.
These three conservation victories were each accomplished differently. Browns Canyon was protected through executive action, Hermosa through Congress, and the Roan Plateau through our system of courts. Each is a legitimate means to protect 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. 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.
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