Many groups are willing to check politics at the door to focus on the best possible management of our public lands
Amidst a historic and unprecedented election season, it seems that our country is more divided—politically and ideologically—than ever. Unfortunately, the conservation and management of our public lands fall prey to this division, and the resulting log jams in Congress, as well. It makes the work we do at the TRCP difficult at times, yet ultimately very rewarding.
In my career—and while I’ve been hunting, fishing, and exploring every nook and cranny of Colorado—I’ve learned a valuable lesson about how much common ground we actually share when it comes to the conservation of our public lands. I’ve spent much of my time at TRCP sitting down with every kind of public land stakeholder: gun shop owners in Cortez, big game guides in Collbran, wildlife biologists in Meeker, politicians in Denver, environmental activists in Salida, and oil and gas operators visiting from Texas. Early on, it was easy to make some assumptions about these different groups and their views on land management, but the reality is different.
What I find when I’m actually face-to-face with these folks is that nearly all of us want the same thing: public lands that we can enjoy in perpetuity; public lands that continue to provide opportunities for outdoor experiences with our families and friends. Even oil and gas developers—whose primary goal is to generate revenue that supports their business—see the value in responsibly managing lands for all the ways American citizens have come to enjoy them.
I’ve realized that no one actually wants this planet to become a barren wasteland, devoid of wildlife and natural places.
Here’s a perfect example. Recently, I joined representatives from the Colorado Wildlife Federation, National Wildlife Federation, and Trout Unlimited to meet with officials from the Colorado State Land Board about the 3,500-acre James Mark Jones State Wildlife Area. These are state-owned lands surrounded by 13,000 acres of backcountry BLM lands that hold crucial migration, stopover, and winter habitat for elk. I explained that we’ve been working closely with the BLM on the Royal Gorge Resource Management Plan, which will dictate management of 6.8 million acres of subsurface lands and 670,000 acres of surface lands that surround the state wildlife area.
Unfortunately, the state lands were on the auction block for private oil and gas leasing, and this was contrary to ongoing collaborative efforts to create a Master Leasing Plan (MLP) for the greater South Park area. As many sportsmen know, the main goal of the State Land Board is to maximize revenue from state lands, which is why 82 percent of state lands in Colorado are closed to hunting and fishing. So, I was sure we were in for an uphill battle in asking the board to defer these leases until after the MLP process had been completed. But, after we stated our case, bolstered by a letter of support from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, we were surprisingly successful.
Contrary to their stated mission, the state board voted 4 to 1 to defer the leases. This is a case where sound judgment and collaboration led to a positive outcome for the management of our public lands. Common sense won out over dogma. In the end, it may be that these lands are the most appropriate place to responsibly develop our energy resources, but at least we’ll know that, through the MLP, the proper time, effort, and consideration have been put into ensuring that this is the case.
Of course, many of us will continue to disagree on the specifics of how our public lands should be conserved, used, and managed. Yet it’s only the most extreme ideologues, driven politically or by their bottom line, who aren’t willing to roll up their sleeves and collaborate on reasonable solutions. It’s time that the rest of us stand up and force these snags to the side. The conservation and management of our public lands should not be a politically driven issue. It should be the commitment we make to future generations. And I believe we’re less divided than we think.