I recently was on a tiny plane shuddering through turbulence over vast expanses of Colorado mountains. Why? I was traveling with EcoFlight, a Colorado-based nonprofit, with the goal of examining numerous designations used to protect and manage public lands, from the air and the ground. Specifically, I wanted to learn about efforts to protect natural systems in the Rocky Mountains. What I got was a firsthand experience in compromise.
For example, I witnessed the frustration of residents who feel alienated by the environmental community, and I gained a deeper appreciation for the ecological and human importance of leaving large swaths of wild land undeveloped. I heard from individuals establishing bipartisan community-based land agreements in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. The popularity of this new age of conservation effort demonstrates that successful initiatives incorporate diverse voices.
The Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act near Durango has gained the approval of the Colorado Snowmobile Association and the Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Association, two firsts for a bill that includes new wilderness, which is off-limits to all vehicles. While federal representatives are mired in ideological stalemates, coalitions such as this provide hope that crucial conservation can be a rare point of unity rather than division.
Jason Sewell, a fifth-generation rancher in western Colorado, says “It’s not that oil and gas drilling shouldn’t happen anywhere. It’s that oil and gas development shouldn’t happen everywhere.” Replace “oil and gas” with any other use of public lands, and you have the paradigm that can guide us toward a healthier national discourse on energy, recreation and the environment.
In the end, this flight was an eye-opener. As an aspiring mountaineer, I hold steady to the value of protecting public lands, but I also pledge to respect and listen to those who see things differently.