Fayhee was probably ready to kill me for how tardy this column was. Turns out, my procrastination was prescient. Today — March 12 — “The president signed a public lands package to protect more than 2 million acres of lands and waters, including nearly 1.3 million acres of wilderness. On Feb. 26, the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act passed the House by a 363-62 vote. The Senate had passed the same measure by a 92-8 vote a week earlier.” http://tinyurl.com/y6ktu3ts
Given the recent tension around the Garfield Board of County Commissioners backtracking on their support of the Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act, I’d been wanting to write about the sorry state of public lands protection in this and recent Congresses. Given the long, noble history of bipartisan support for public lands conservation, it pains me to get partisan about it. But Republican legislators have been blocking everything. Which really puzzles me, given the strong culture of hunting and fishing in traditionally conservative rural parts of the nation. And these folk understand that without a high quantity of high-quality habitats, there’s nothing to hunt and fish. I can only hope that today’s bipartisan support for this public lands package heralds the return to a day when the environment wasn’t partisan and ideological.
Our own Sen. Corey Gardner recently had a lengthy op-ed in the Glenwood Post Independent touting his “instrumental role” in the passage of the Senate version of the bill signed into law today. A key piece of the new law is permanent authorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. To Gardner’s credit, he’s been a sometimes lonely Republican champion of the LWCF in the Senate, and deserves ample kudos for working so long and hard to get permanent authorization. Established in 1964 through bipartisan support, the LWCF uses royalties from the extraction of a finite resource, offshore oil and gas, to conserve and sustain the renewable and precious natural resources of land and water. No tax dollars used while conserving some of nation’s most iconic and important landscapes for wildlife and recreation … a no-brainer.
Because Congress only authorized funding for 50 years in the original LWCF, it expired in 2015 and has limped along with temporary and uncertain funding since. It’s even survived the Republican majority’s attempts to do away with it altogether, thanks in large measure to Sen. Gardner’s recognition of the importance of public lands to his Colorado constituents. So, credit where credit is due. Thanks, Corey!
But, he can’t get off that easily. The LWCF is one of our nation’s most successful and wildly popular conservation programs ever. It should never have expired in the first place and that happened under Sen. Gardner’s watch when his party had full control of Congress. Authorizing the continued existence of the LWCF program is one thing, but it’s almost meaningless without the actual appropriation of funds. If Gardner wants to prove his public lands bona fides, he should lead his colleagues to enact permanent full funding of the program. The Senator knows this yet is silent on it.
His Glenwood Post op-ed touted a few other Colorado-specific conservation efforts in the Senate Bill, calling them a win for the state. While important in their own right, these small efforts pale in comparison with the scale of the actual conservation needs in Colorado. A glaring omission, conspicuous in its absence given its prominence in our local news for the last decade and in our hearts as we ski, ride, hunt, hike and gawk on a daily basis, was the Thompson Divide.
Sen. Bennet’s Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act has been introduced into each new Congress for years and all we’ve gotten from Gardner has been crickets. Touting his public lands leadership in the paper of record in a community that literally touches and is the gateway for the Thompson Divide (the protection of which is supported by its elected leaders and a virtually unprecedented spectrum of strange bedfellows) is either tone deaf in the extreme or a cynical political spin effort and insult to the intelligence of this community.
Redeem yourself, Sen. Gardner. Support Sen. Bennet’s CORE Act. It has numerous locally generated, consensus-driven public lands conservation initiatives, including the Thompson Divide Act. Colorado College’s State of the Rockies report shows that public lands conservation is a core value of Coloradans across the political spectrum. Show us that you aren’t beholden to special interests out of step with your constituents. Why wouldn’t you? 2020 is coming and you’ve been identified as one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the nation. The future is looking back on you; don’t let it ask why you didn’t do more.
Arriving in 1984, Shoemaker has lived in communities throughout the Roaring Fork Valley, finally putting down roots and raising a family in Carbondale. Having recently stepped down as Wilderness Workshop’s Executive Director after 20-plus years, he’s still wondering what he’s going to be when he grows up. This column, which appears monthly in the RFWJ, may be a start.