Some Americans are not so lucky. They will never experience the majesty of the American West and the bounty and the beauty of its public lands.
These lands and the waters that flow through them define the landscape and the people who live here, as well as those who do not. They, too, own these lands, and take heart in knowing they are a significant part of our nation’s heritage – worth protecting – and celebrating.
Last year, our state Legislature decided to do just that and established Colorado Public Lands Day on the third Saturday of May. We are the first state in the nation to establish such a holiday; Senate Bill 16-021 passed the Legislature with bipartisan support and was signed into law by Gov. John Hicklenlooper.
We cannot overstate the significance of our local, state and federal public lands to our community, economy and quality of life, and are pleased this bill was proposed and enacted.
Approximately 45 percent of Colorado’s land area is public. Its forests, canyons, peaks, plains and prairies are on display in 41 state parks, 11 national forests, four national parks, eight national monuments, two national grasslands and 350 state wildlife areas.
Many of these lands have a multi-use mission. The agencies that manage them are charged with balancing traditional uses – like agriculture, ranching, mining, fossil fuel extraction and timber harvesting – with tourism and outdoor recreation.
Resource-dependent communities that have long benefited from public lands development have more recently experienced the negative effects of fluctuating global energy prices. For 2016-2018, La Plata County forecasts a $6.6 million decrease in property tax revenue derived from gas and oil operations in the county.
Diminishing returns and uncertainty surrounding the industry are causing communities like ours to pursue preservation-based strategies that increasingly rely on tourism and outdoor recreation-based economic development.
Colorado’s outdoor recreation economy is fueled annually by more than 7.5 million domestic and international visitors who generate over $13.2 billion in consumer spending and $994 million in state and local tax revenue.
Unfortunately, a significant component of this economic resource is under threat, most notably from the Trump administration’s executive order on the Review of Designations Under the Antiquities Act, signed last month. It calls for a review of all monuments of 100,000 acres or more created by presidents since Jan. 1, 1996.
Its pretense is that these monuments, 27 in all, comprise a federal land grab, and resulted from “a lack of public outreach and proper coordination with state, tribal and local officials and other relevant stakeholders (that) may also create barriers to achieving energy independence, restrict public access to and use of federal lands, burden ... (the above) governments, and otherwise curtail economic growth.”
Unfortunately, the order considers only one type of economic development on multiple-use lands – energy – at a time when global markets and natural gas are in decline and the communities that have depended on them are seeking to diversify away from these historic sources of support. It also ignores the fact that the majority of these lands are already leased for energy development.
Canyon of the Ancients National Monument, west of Cortez, contains the greatest concentration of ancient archaeological sites in the country. At 176,000 acres, it falls under the review, and is currently 80 percent leased for oil and gas development.
The final designation for the 1.3 million acre Bears Ears National Monument in Utah omitted 600,000 acres, land reserved for future motorized recreation, uranium mining, oil and gas and other development.
Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke recently toured Bears Ears and said, “I always get concerned about what the legacy is going to be 100 years from now. I want to make sure that your children’s children and mine look back at this moment and say: ‘You know what? We did it right.’”
Eliminating or reducing the size of monuments and hastening their pace of development will compromise the natural and cultural resources within their borders. That is the wrong legacy to be leaving our children. This inaugural Public Lands Day is a great day to get outside, and to log your support for our nation’s monuments.
The period to comment on the Bears Ears monument review ends May 26, and the other monument comment periods conclude July 10. Submit comments online at regulations.gov (enter “DOI-2017-0002” in the search bar) or mail them to Monument Review, MS-1530, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20240.