Widespread support for land and river protection and restoration
Denver – The Obama administration’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative comes to Colorado this week in an effort to develop a conservation agenda for the 21st century. Conservation and recreation leaders across Colorado are calling on citizens to speak up and help shape the initiative aimed at getting kids outside and safeguarding our natural heritage.
“Our parks, forests, and public lands are what make Colorado great,” said Caitlin Balch-Burnett, Colorado outreach representative for Defenders of Wildlife. “This initiative is a tremendous opportunity to address critical issues facing our natural treasures such as adapting to climate change, and take meaningful steps to restore and protect them.”
“America’s Great Outdoors should protect our shared public lands here in Colorado,” said Steve Smith, Regional Director of The Wilderness Society in Denver. “Protecting, connecting and restoring our lands and waters will keep our economy and clean water flowing freely in Colorado. By protecting our treasured lands, we will ensure that young people have the opportunity to reconnect with their natural heritage today and for generations to come.”
More than a million acres of land are developed each year, limiting opportunities for outdoor recreation. The initiative can play an important role in evaluating key lands and waters that deserve more protection to ensure future generations of Americans can breathe clean air, hear the sounds of nature, and enjoy scenic views for years to come.
“Protecting Colorado’s treasured landscapes and scenic waterways is not only the right thing to do for future generations, it is key to our economic success,” said Jason Wedemeyer, West Slope Energy Organizer with Colorado Environmental Coalition. “Millions of people come to Colorado each year to experience Colorado’s natural beauty and contribute billions to Colorado’s economy through hiking, fishing, paddling, wildlife viewing and biking activities. We urge the administration to seek strong protections for our treasured landscapes and river corridors.”
According to a report prepared for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, the Colorado active outdoor recreation economy contributes over $10 billion to Colorado’s economy annually and supports 107,000 jobs across Colorado.
Conservation priorities include fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), and protecting key rivers and lands with special safeguards.
The LWCF has permanently protected some of America’s most cherished natural and cultural treasures. In Colorado, the LWCF helped protect the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, and prevented water from the area from being exported to fuel unsustainable development. In 2008 non-local visitor spending in the region surrounding Great Sand Dunes topped $9 million and supported nearly 200 local jobs. The fund has also helped farmers and ranchers protect their land and clean water with conservation easements, saving some of America’s richest wildlife areas for hunting and fishing.
“Colorado has a strong track record of land conservation, but as the state’s population continues to grow at a rapid pace, with one million new residents expected by 2020, additional protection of natural areas and working lands is needed to ensure healthy, productive agriculture and clean water,” said Tim Sullivan, Colorado State Director of The Nature Conservancy and partner of the Colorado Conservation Partnership. “The America’s Great Outdoors Initiative should include full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and incentives that encourage landowners to conserve their land for the benefit of the community today as well as future generations.”
River protection and restoration is a focus in Colorado and nationwide, because rivers provide fishing, paddling and other recreation for all ages, they connect our communities to parks and other natural treasures, and they give us clean water – the number one environmental concern among Americans.
“Every American deserves a healthy river,” said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers. “Rivers give us unmatched opportunities for exploration, learning, connection and renewal. The Obama administration should prioritize the protection and restoration of our rivers and clean water for today’s kids and for future generations.”
“Rivers are the lifeblood of our public lands, provide nourishment to fish, wildlife, and support recreation central to our identities and economies, said Sinjin Eberle, President of Colorado Trout Unlimited. “Without healthy watersheds and rivers our public lands and western landscapes cannot sustain life. Preserving these rivers preserves our western way of life.”
The groups also urged the administration to take this opportunity to strengthen the capacity for federal, regional, state, and local agencies and private landowners to work collaboratively in order to protect national parks, and also the wildlife, plants, and rivers beyond park borders.
The administration will hold listening sessions in Denver and Grand Junction on July 16. The public is encouraged to attend the sessions and to provide feedback at http://www.doi.gov/americasgreatoutdoors/.