Speak out for Colorado’s Great Outdoors

On Friday,  Western Coloradans will have a unique opportunity to influence public lands policy that will help determine what kind of outdoor world our children will inherit. President Barack Obama’s Great Outdoors America Initiative will bring its “listening session” to Grand Junction to give ordinary citizens the opportunity to express their vision for the future of our nation’s open spaces.

In a presidential memorandum signed in April, Obama wrote, “We must look to the private sector and nonprofit organizations, as well as towns, cities and states, and the people who live and work in them, to identify the places that mean the most to Americans, and leverage the support of the federal government to help these community-driven efforts to succeed. Through these partnerships, we will work to connect these outdoor spaces to each other, and to reconnect Americans to them.”

The secretaries of Interior and Agriculture departments, along with the EPA administrator and the chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality are charged with leading the initiative. Their activities will be coordinated with other federal departments and the Office of Management and Budget.

Referring to a “growing strain on our wildlife and our waters and our lands,” the president said, “rising to meet these challenges is a task and an obligation, but it’s one government cannot and should not meet alone.”

The goals of the initiative, the president says, are, first, to “build on successful conservation efforts … by local and state governments, by tribes, and by private groups” outside of Washington to “write a new chapter in the protection of rivers, wildlife habitats, historic sites, and the great landscapes of our country.”

Other goals are helping farmers, ranchers and property owners protect their lands for their children and grandchildren, helping families and young people to get outdoors more, and to foster a new generation of community and urban parks.

Evoking the spirit of Theodore Roosevelt, Obama said, “We’re launching this strategy because it’s the right thing to do.” But, he added, “We’re also doing it because it’s the right thing to do for our economy. It’s how we’re going to spur job creation in the tourism industry and the recreation industry, it’s how we’ll create jobs preserving and maintaining our forests, our rivers, our great outdoors.”

This economic argument should resonate in Colorado, where tourism, largely as a result of Colorado’s famous open spaces and outdoor adventure opportunities, is a major industry, employing 144,000 people statewide. In 2008, it attracted nearly 51 million domestic visitors, who spent approximately $11 billion in tourism-related expenditures. Local and state taxes on tourism spending amounted to another $760 million for the state economy.

Hunting and fishing, another economic driver for the state dependent on open spaces and clean streams and lakes, generated a total economic impact of $1.8 billion in 2007, and supported 21,000 full-time jobs. Even allowing for some decline because of the current recession, hunting and fishing are major contributors to the state and local economies.

But for many Coloradans, protecting our public and private open spaces is less about economics than about sustaining our way of life.

The Great Outdoors listening session offers an important opportunity to let the Obama administration know your priorities for preserving Colorado’s Great Outdoors. The message we send to Washington will help shape the Colorado we leave to the future.

In addition to speaking out for particular places deserving protection, the Wilderness Society encourages citizens to urge the administration to conserve large landscapes to protect our healthy wildlands and rivers.

The organization also supports giving the BLM authority to establish new wilderness study areas, creating a “quiet recreation strategy” for federal lands in Colorado, supporting more science-based resource management and supporting opportunities for hunting and fishing on public lands.

“Even in times of crisis,” the president said, “we’re called to take the long view to preserve our natural heritage — because in doing so we fulfill one of the responsibilities that falls to all of us as Americans, and as inhabitants of this same small planet.”

The meeting is Friday, 9 a.m. to noon, at Two Rivers Convention Center. If you are not there for yourself, be there for your children and grandchildren.

Bill Grant lives in Grand Junction. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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