Wilderness Workshop welcomes new conservation director
Juli Slivka has enjoyed public lands since she was young.
“I grew up with very outdoorsy parents, and we were always climbing 14ers, camping, skiing,” she said. “We were always out on the public lands, and out in the West, on the weekends and family vacations.”
Slivka came to Carbondale’s Wilderness Workshop in August, but as a Colorado native, she has loved the Roaring Fork Valley and surrounding White River National Forest for years.
“My very first project at the Wilderness Society was working on the Roan Plateau plan, so in some ways my career started right here in this landscape,” she said.
Slivka studied environmental sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara, before joining the Wilderness Society, where she worked in various roles for 12 years.
Much of the work of the Washington D.C.-based Wilderness Society is on policy at the federal and state level, which is valuable but sometimes doesn’t include the voices of local stakeholders.
Now, she’ll take a break from national public lands advocacy to focus on conservation in one specific location.
Part of the function of local conservation is giving communities the tools and information to participate in public land decisions. Whether it’s an environmental impact statement, or a range management plan (RMP), public land agencies have long and complex processes for making decisions.
The Thompson Divide permanent mineral withdrawal will be part of Slivka’s portfolio of issues. Currently, the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act includes language to prohibit new oil and gas leases on the Thompson Divide.
The bill is working its way through Congress, and Slivka is excited to work with the various groups involved.
“I feel really fortunate to have landed here at a time when there is so much positive momentum behind the CORE Act,” Slivka said.
The history of the Thompson Divide highlights some of the challenges of balancing what local communities want out of their public lands. On the one hand, the vast majority of locals want the Thompson Divide protected, but some county leaders have questioned the wisdom in permanently restricting oil and gas development.
Slivka believes local conservation groups can be truly helpful in finding the appropriate balance of multiple uses.
“There is a place for everything, and certainly there is space to protect wilderness, develop energy, mountain bike, conserve habitats and everything in between,” Slivka said.
Coordinating so many conflicting interests can be a challenge.
“It is really just piecing it together, and ideally that’s done with a lot of local input, so at the end of the day everyone has gained something and has space to do what they want to do on our public lands,” she said.
“That’s a really tough challenge, but that’s where the role of local conservation groups really shines, in bringing everyone together and figuring out what the right balance is for this particular place.”
Compared to policy advocacy work, the local conservation efforts involve a lot more community partnerships.
“There’s a lot of listening to what the community wants and coming up with a joint vision for our public lands and our environment,” Slivka said.
“That’s something that is really neat to see and I’m exited to be a part of it.”
Slivka also will work on protecting wildlife corridors so animals can move freely, which is especially important in a changing climate.
Protecting public lands and the environment is important for two reasons, she said. One is to allow people to recreate in nature, whether that’s through biking, hiking, hunting, fishing or just a picnic outside.
“I think it’s a great spiritual release, she said. “People enjoy getting out into nature, and we need to make sure some places stay wild so we can do that.”
The bigger reason for conservation, Slivka said, is to preserve wilderness for the future.
“A really important reason to do this work is so that future generations can enjoy public lands and enjoy the amazing wildlife that we have in the state, just as we have,” Slivka said.
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