Windex and other pressing issues that may affect our public lands

I entered the ballroom at Colorado Mesa University last Tuesday night hoping for inspiration. What I heard during discussion about the economic value of public lands, sponsored by the Mesa County Conservation Forum, left me mostly disillusioned and grumpier than usual. 

In my life, the connection between public lands and our economy is very clear. 

My current business finds me dealing with public lands issues frequently. Regular readers know my columns often display passion about what happens in Colorado’s great outdoors.

As a former member of the state Economic Development Commission, I know the wisdom of a remark often made by one of my former employers, ex-Gov. Roy Romer, that “the best people come to the best places.” As a former elected official, I know at least one prominent local business relocated to Grand Junction partly to satisfy the owners’ desires to live where they frequently came to recreate.

I enjoy camping, fishing and hiking and come from a ranching family, all activities that utilize public lands. And there’ve been workers in extractive industries in all but the very latest of the five generations who followed the original Spehars and Kapushions who immigrated to western Colorado to mine coal. (Members of the sixth generation have yet to celebrate their first birthdays, so we’ll have to wait and see about them.)

Last Tuesday, I heard a self-professed lover of Yellowstone National Park decry preservationists and wondered what Teddy Roosevelt might have thought about that. Or Ronald Reagan, who signed more wilderness bills than any other president. 

That speaker and others decried obstructionism by environmentalists and their attorneys, yet the next day I read about a former BLM chief advocating similar action.

“Lawsuits are a tactic that slow down the process. It’s a means to stop their agenda from becoming memorialized,” Kathleen Clarke averred. Now director of Utah’s Public Lands Policy Coordination Office, she was in Vernal joining counties upset with potential new oil shale rules. Something about sauce and the goose and gander came to mind as I remembered threats of lawsuits in Utah and elsewhere to force local control of federal lands owned by all Americans.

I’m a 65-year-old hunter who enjoys chasing elk and deer and birds with his son but wonders where that 25-year-old might hunt when he’s 65, unless there’s still a ranch in the family that occupies prime habitat. (Please, no more of those pictures of deer and elk grazing in the shadow of drilling rigs. We see them alongside highways too, but that’s not good breeding and birthing habitat.)

While the forum was about the economic value of public lands, I worried about wildlife groups and others being sucked into arguing the merits of their uses mostly in monetary terms. Some things, John Muir argued, are more important than that.

“Nothing dollarable is safe, however guarded,” the father of the national parks once said.

What I heard at the forum accentuated that “multiple use” means different things to different folks ... sometimes “my use first, then yours if it doesn’t interfere” or “every use on every acre.” I learned “you have to use to conserve” and also heard worries about potential environmental issues from disposing of Windex needed to clean collectors on solar farms in the Mohave Desert.

Really? Windex is a public lands problem?

Or maybe it’s just misdirection away from millions of gallons of “benign” fracking fluids.

I appreciated the advice from panelist Dr. John Redifer of CMU that we all ask “what if I’m wrong” when bringing our differing perspectives to these sorts of discussions.

But it occurs to me that if the conservationists and the derided “preservationists” are wrong, there’s time to reverse that error. If we hurriedly push all potential uses onto our public lands without appropriate safeguards, discussion and compromise, we could have hell to pay playing cleanup.

“We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources and we have just reason to be proud of our growth,” Theodore Roosevelt once said. “But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil, and the gas are exhausted, when the soils have still further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers, denuding the fields and obstructing navigation.”

Obviously, Jim Spehar worries about more than Windex when he thinks about our public lands. Your thoughts are welcome at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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