Colorado is known across the world for our scenic mountains, racing rivers, and abundant wildlife. The inherent value of our wild spaces is apparent to anyone and everyone that has had the privilege of seeing the dance of a grouse or heard the bugle of an elk.
The majesty of our mountains and our wildlife has inspired a tradition of conservation that persists in the very identity of Coloradans. As an avid hunter and angler, I never cease to be humbled by the profound sense of connection we have to our lands and waters — and the delicate balance of flora and fauna that depend on them.
As hunters, we know where animals are throughout the year and where they go during the winters and summers to eat and breed. And we, along with the scientific community, are also learning how these animals migrate and what routes they take. We are all recognizing that these wildlife corridors are just as important for sustaining wildlife populations as large areas of protected lands and waters.
A recent poll from National Wildlife Federation found that it is not just hunters or animal lovers who want to conserve migration corridors. In fact, 85 percent of Colorado voters surveyed support efforts to protect wildlife migratory routes. This support spans rural and non-rural residents, age, gender, and education, with 92 percent of Democratic voters, 74 percent of Republican voters, and 89 percent of independent voters supporting conservation of these routes. Additionally, 88 percent of Colorado voters want to build more overpasses and underpasses so wildlife can safely cross highways and major roads.
Thankfully, there is new legislation that would conserve several wildlife corridors: the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act (or CORE Act) combines four distinct pieces of legislation that all have a wildlife protection component within them.
In my own backyard, the Continental Divide and Camp Hale proposal within the bill will create two new wildlife conservation areas: the Porcupine Gulch Wildlife Conservation Area, which will protect Colorado's only migration corridor over Interstate 70 for elk, bear, mule deer, and other wildlife; and the Williams Fork Wildlife Conservation Area, which will enhance wildlife habitat for the greater sage-grouse and other species.
Additionally, the Thompson Divide component will protect summer and winter ranges for elk, with particular importance to the upper elevation areas where nursing calves eat in order to sustain themselves for the coming winter. Studies have found that human disturbances during this critical time contributes to fewer calves.
The Thompson Divide also provides a critical link for moose to move between the Grand Mesa and the Crystal River Valley.
The third portion of the CORE Act will establish new wilderness in the San Juan Mountains, providing a crucial corridor link to the Weminuche Wilderness to the south of the range, providing safe passage for elk, deer, and rocky mountain bighorn sheep. The area is also home to Canada lynx, Colorado Albert's squirrel, Gunnison sage-grouse, and Colorado cutthroat trout.
Finally, officially establishing Curecanti as a national park would expand fishing access and protect critical habitat for mule deer, sage grouse, and prairie dog.
Passing the CORE Act would preserve these important wildlife havens that define our state and support our growing economy. In 2017 alone, hunters, anglers, and wildlife viewers in Colorado had a $5.1 billion economic impact on the economy. That same year, Colorado Parks and Wildlife found that outdoor recreation in general contributed $62 billion to our state's economy and $35 billion to the gross domestic product, while supporting 511,000 jobs.
The legislation was introduced this year by Sen. Michael Bennet and Congressman Joe Neguse and has been decades in the making with support from small business owners, veterans, ranchers, and sportsmen like me.
In order to preserve our wildlife populations, we need to protect the paths they travel. That is something everyone can get behind, especially Sen. Cory Gardner and Congressman Scott Tipton, who have a unique opportunity to make their support for hunting and fishing values known.
The time-tested traditions of hunting and fishing are vital for our state and its future, and I urge Colorado's members of Congress to come together and support this legislation so future generations can carry on this Western legacy.
Robyn Smith is an adventurer, entrepreneur, skier, angler, hunter, and avid outdoorsman. She is the vice president of CanvasCamp — a manufacturer of canvas tents — as well as the founder and CEO of Embuzi, a boutique sales and marketing consulting firm specializing in the outdoor industry.