Boys with toys are not the only users of our wilderness
VOICE OF THE PROGRESSIVE
Free Press Opinion Columnist
When I was a banker in Denver, we were told that banking salaries were lower here because people wanted to live the Colorado lifestyle. People were willing to work at lower wages just so that they could move to Colorado and ski, hunt, fish, camp, hike, bike, etc. Colorado won the competition because of the natural beauty with which we’ve been blessed.
The BLM is responsible for managing much of the land that draws people from other states, whether they come for employment or for recreation. Managing the land is a difficult job since there are competing interests. The land, in addition to being awe-inspiring, is full of natural resources. The ways that recreationists use the land also create conflicts: Riding horses isn’t much fun when a dirt bike suddenly appears with its noise and dust. (That’s a personal story. I once broke vertebrae when Bingo threw me after being startled by a noisy bike.) Some people want quiet trails; others want to test their domination over machines.
Lately. there has been a lot of coverage about the anger of boys with toys who think that the BLM is taking away their right to use all-terrain vehicles anywhere and everywhere. I recently attended a meeting hosted by the BLM about their review of their local management plan (RMP), and was shocked to see so many angry men openly carrying their guns. At the time, I thought that it was time for some boys to grow up and enter the civilized world. Protecting your home is one thing, intimidating people with different needs and wants is another thing.
But I digress. The BLM is currently considering how to best manage the federal lands that surround us. As in any federal program, public input is being solicited. The boys with their toys will be heard, but we should not let their voice be the only voice heard. The comment period ends on June 24.
Not much has changed since my banking days in Denver. According to a 2013 survey conducted by Colorado College, “98% – virtually all Coloradans – say that public lands are an ’essential part’ of Colorado’s economy; 85% believe the presence of these areas in the state helps to attract high quality employers and good jobs to Colorado; 74% oppose the sale of some public lands in order to reduce the budget deficit; a solid majority of 54% want environmentally sensitive public lands to be ‘permanently protected’ from oil and gas production.”
Given the economic value of pristine wilderness areas, many of which are in our backyard, the BLM must do more to preserve the beauty of our landscapes. The preferred plan in the draft RMP opens more than a million acres to oil and gas leasing, including in some unique wild places. It falls short of conserving wilderness quality lands and protecting them from environmental threats. Unique places like South Shale Ridge, Hunter Canyon and Prairie Canyon could be permanently damaged, subjecting big game and other unique animals and plants to stress and decline.
One of the complaints of the extremely vocal boys with toys is that the BLM is closing trails. Many of these trails were created by boys with toys ignoring instructions to stay on existing trails. They believe that they are entitled wilderness access, disregarding other users of the backcountry. Other trails enabled mineral extraction and were not intended to be permanent. The BLM is trying to make sense of all of these planned and unplanned trails in order to ensure that we all can enjoy unfettered majestic views and a rich diversity of wildlife for generations to come.
People come to western Colorado because of our unique blend of desert and mountain terrains. Current estimates also include 100,000 new residents in Mesa County over the next 20 years. All of these people use public lands differently. We need to make sure that there are opportunities for quiet recreation. Horseback riders don’t need those noisy surprises.
If we don’t protect some of the wilderness from development and unregulated motorized travel, we’ll lose that competitive advantage that fills our local hotels and restaurants. Managing public lands needs to be about balance. Express yourself at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Sticks in the mud. Overly cautious. Obstacles to progress.