After almost 14 years writing Thinking Green as a guest columnist here at The Durango Herald, it's time to hang up the keyboard.
I've greatly enjoyed both the accolades and criticisms that accompany offering observations and hopefully the occasional insight about the many issues affecting the environment of our beloved Four Corners.
That first column in 1996 described a no-holds assault on our public lands. Radical anti-government types controlled the key congressional committees dealing with public lands, and had concocted a raft of ultimately unsuccessful legislation to variously give away all 270 million acres of Bureau of Land Management lands (goodbye, Southern Utah), close "surplus" national park units such as Hovenweep, and hand over national forest ski areas to private corporations and real estate development companies.
Can you imagine Southwest Colorado devoid of its public lands? Our public lands heritage is the one, key unifying theme for most everyone who lives in the Four Corners, whether you access it by foot, horse, bicycle, ATV or jeep. Yet, like clockwork, every generation Congress contemplates permanently abandoning our national heritage of shared, public commons. Our public lands equalize us all. Doesn't matter if you have a multimillion-dollar McMansion at the Glacier Club or are jammed like sardines into a boarding house, we all have equal access to explore and enjoy our magnificent public mountains, forests, deserts and rivers across the Southwest.
As Colorado fills up, and the desire for a slice of Rocky Mountain heaven amps up again once we clear our current economic woes, we'll see no end to the onslaught of schemes to profit from our undeveloped wildlands. The Glacier Club's ploy to snatch a couple of hundred acres of national forest for an expanded golf course and associated trophy homes, and the Village at Wolf Creek's cheeky proposal to gobble up even more land for housing and condos atop Wolf Creek Pass, are just two on which to keep tabs.
Despite the pressures, we've seen progress these intervening 14 years. In 2000, one of America's most extraordinary archaeological treasures achieved increased protection in Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. Durango's nascent open space program has gained speed with the creation of Durango Mountain Park and Dalla Mountain Park, and the Horse Gulch purchases. No longer are there disputes about logging old-growth forests that once ignited controversy in the Piedra River drainage. A thriving population of lynx now roams across the wild, high-country of the San Juans. Development has been avoided in the San Juan River's marvelous East Fork Valley, and via the purchase of thousands of acres of scattered private mining claims atop Red Mountain Pass. And the heart of the HD Mountains is still as free of gas wells as it was 20 years ago.
An Ed Abbey quote best sums my enthusiasm for crafting this column over the years: "Wilderness needs no defense, just more defenders." I hope I've spurred a few of you dear readers to greater defense of the wild heart and soul of the San Juans.
Mark Pearson was formerly director of the San Juan