Everyone in western Colorado can attest to young people’s passion for entertainment. With long ski lines, jam-packed 14er summits and rising housing prices, it can be hard to imagine that anyone else can get into the canyon box.
The increase in foreign consumption is highlighted in recently released economic data. Colorado’s outdoor recreation economy is projected to reach $11.6 billion by 2021 — 2.7 percent of the state’s GDP — according to the US Bureau of Economic Analysis. Colorado is the national leader in snow jobs, accounting for $1.3 billion of the total US industry of $5.2 billion.
“This renewed participation in the outdoors reflects the ever-growing appreciation of America’s outdoors,” said Kent Ebersole, interim director of the Outdoor Industry Association, in a news release.
While outdoor recreation is important to Colorado’s economy, local activists warn that the protection of public lands must improve with economic growth.
“As we see increased use, it’s even more important to protect our public lands,” Mason Osgood, executive director of the Sheep Mountain Alliance, told the Daily Planet. “We have to stick to our current policies and have stricter policies.”
The increase in outdoor recreation also requires more funding to protect local pastures.
“The key is to make sure public land managers have enough money to staff and deal with visitors,” said Mark Pearson, executive director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance. “BLM and Forest Service trying to deal with growth.”
Currently, the policies of the BLM and the US Forest Service do not reflect the increase in land use and have not sufficiently updated their travel recommendations, which include where people should travel for various activities to reduce conflicts, according to Pearson.
This is especially important in the development of new powered vehicles, such as wooden sleds, that people use to explore the backcountry.
“Car technology drives away other users and wildlife. The Forest Service, for years, refused to deal with that,” Pearson said.
Better solutions are in state bills, such as the Colorado Outdoor Recreation & Economy (CORE) Act and the Colorado Wilderness Bill, both of which are pending in Congress. The CORE Act would protect 400,000 acres of public lands in Colorado, and 61,000 acres of land in the San Juan Mountains, including Sneffels Mountain and Wilson Peak. The Colorado Wilderness Bill proposes the protection of 600,000 acres of land in 32 different areas in Colorado, including the Grand Hogback vistas, the Little Book Cliffs and the Dolores River Canyon, with a greater emphasis on BLM mid-elevation land than mountain areas. of the CORE Act.
Part of the CORE Act just became law, thanks to President Joe Biden signing an executive order to designate Camp Hale as a National Monument. Camp Hale honors the legacy of the 10th Mountain Division soldiers who trained in the area and protected nearly 54,000 acres.
Any hopes of passing public lands legislation are likely to depend on the current Congress, before Republicans take over the House in 2023.
“At Sheep Mountain Alliance, we continue to advocate for legislative and regulatory actions that protect our public lands,” Osgood said. “Conservation groups must go through all avenues to protect our public lands, including executive actions and grassroots advocacy on both sides of the aisle. But if we keep building low support and nothing happens, it says something about our national government. “
From 2000-10, Congress has protected 9.5 million hectares of land by law, according to the Center for the Great Western Report, but only 3.3 million hectares from 2011-21, despite the introduction of several powerful bills.
“We’re holding hands on the CORE Act so that at the end of the year, we’ll have a big public lands bill passed, but we’ve been crossing our fingers for years,” Pearson said.
While legislation is awaited, local advocates are investing in solutions to protect public lands. In Durango, the San Juans Citizens Alliance is developing local trails, such as Junction Creek, that are close to downtown to allow for easy access, while maintaining clean wildlife corridors and prime habitats. There are similar planning efforts throughout western Colorado, including BLM land west of Telluride, according to Pearson.
Around Telluride, the Sheep Mountain Alliance helped draft a revised BLM management plan that would protect the Gunnison sage grouse with the support of San Miguel County commissioners.
“This is an important satellite community in San Miguel County, so we are enforcing increased security. “It’s not at the forefront of people’s minds in Telluride, but it’s an amazing bird and a threat,” Osgood said.
Other plans to protect public lands include developing a stakeholder group in San Miguel County to openly discuss the relationship between the expansion of recreation and the protection of public lands, and to apply for additional funding to develop and improve trail infrastructure.