Like many Coloradans, some of my best and earliest memories involve exploring Colorado’s wild places with my family. Forging a connection with our outdoors is part of our way of life, and should be an experience available to every Coloradan.
These special places also power our outdoor economy, sustaining 229,000 jobs and $9.7 billion in salaries and wages across the state.
But this vital economic engine is in danger like never before. Protecting it for future generations will be one of the defining challenges our state confronts in the coming years. That’s why I’m putting forward a detailed plan to keep Colorado wild.
Some of the threats we face are man-made and come from Washington. President Trump has made it clear that he’s more interested in privatizing our public lands for corporate profits than in protecting our rural economies. I meet Coloradans across our state who worry that Trump will carve up our protected areas for private redevelopment just as he is doing in other states. Once these lands are sold off and ruined, that’s it – you can’t recover natural resources that no longer exist, and access is gone forever.
Other threats come from our rapidly changing climate. Warmer temperatures are reducing snowpack that our ski industry depends on, while volatile weather is increasing the rate of natural disasters that can permanently destroy wildlife habitat, in addition to our homes, businesses, and roads. We’re even starting to see changes to the natural migration patterns of ducks, trout, and elk, putting hunting and angling in Colorado at risk.
Over time, these threats jeopardize our economy, our jobs, and our way of life.
With an amazingly successful first Outdoor Retailer show behind us, it’s time to take bold action to protect our cherished wild places – including the public lands that comprise about a third of our state – and grow our outdoor recreation economy.
That means standing strong against attempts to sell off our lands to the highest bidder. We should follow the example of other western states and hold corporate developers accountable when they damage wildlife and habitat on lands the taxpayers sustain.
Fully funding Colorado Parks and Wildlife would be an important step forward. But to tackle these challenges we need to go further and start thinking outside the box. My plan calls for establishing Colorado Conservation and Recreation Districts, based on the successful Colorado Creative Districts that already exist. This is an affordable and innovative strategy to encourage participation in the full range of Colorado’s outdoor economy, promote outdoor entrepreneurship, and ease overuse by making Coloradans aware of our more hidden gems.
We must also ensure Colorado’s sportsmen and sportswomen retain their access to public lands. The hunters and fishers I speak with are often frustrated by the lack of available places to enjoy their passion. We should work with private landowners and local communities to make available incentives or partnerships for them to voluntarily open their lands to hunting and fishing, if they choose.
Finally, a plan for Colorado’s outdoors would be incomplete without accounting for the West’s most important natural resource: water. At times in our history, competition for this vital resources has divided us. To avoid these pitfalls as we prepare for a warmer, drier, more populated future, we must seek common ground as we work to preserve access to clean drinking water and implement the Colorado Water Plan.
Experience has taught us that the changing demands on Colorado’s changing water supply are best managed not by Washington bureaucrats, but by Colorado communities building consensus from the ground up. Our state only has access to about one third of the water that accumulates here, and the water compacts we share with surrounding states will continue to put pressure on our water supply as populations grow. We need an approach to water policy that emphasizes conservation and that puts the needs of Colorado families first.
Our great outdoors are one of the driving forces behind the Colorado way of life we all love. If we act boldly and proactively, we can make sure our cherished wild places are around not just for ourselves, but for our kids and grandkids.
Jared Polis (D-Boulder) is a candidate for governor. Hecurrently serves as a U.S. Representative for Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District.