Bruell column: Holding our commissioners accountable for protecting the lands we love

Debbie Bruell
Debbie Bruell.

Protecting our land — along with our Western heritage of family farming and ranching, hunting and fishing, wide open spaces and breathtaking vistas — is broadly supported by folks across Colorado.

With our population growing, demands on our water increasing, and pressures for development intensifying, we’re fortunate to have groups like the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust which partners with interested farming and ranching families to conserve their working lands. Voluntary conservation easements provide families with tax advantages that enable them to continue owning and working their land for generations — rather than selling their land off to developers. 

The projects that community-based, non-profit organizations like land trusts do to protect our lands are exactly the type of efforts that President Biden aims to support through his America the Beautiful Initiative. The initiative leverages public and private funds for locally-led and locally-designed conservation and restoration projects. Local groups can apply for funding through a streamlined application process. 

This initiative is a response to an urgent call from the scientific community to conserve at least 30% of the world’s lands and waters by the end of this decade if we are to avoid a climate disaster and maintain sufficient clean air, drinking water, and food chains to sustain life on Earth. The goal of Biden’s America the Beautiful initiative (known as 30×30) is to conserve 30% of America’s land and waters by 2030. (Currently, 12% of our land is protected.)

The good news is that protecting the lands we love is widely supported by folks across our country. In 2020, the vote to permanently reauthorize and fully fund the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund passed with strong bipartisan support. 

The bad news is that, months before details of the 30×30 initiative were even announced, the far-right Texas group American Stewards of Liberty (ASL) and other MAGA Republicans embarked on a fear-mongering and disinformation campaign to defeat it.

And it gets worse: our county commissioners and our tax dollars are aiding this anti-conservation crusade.

ASL is promoting the conspiracy theory that 30×30 is a secret government plot to seize people’s private property. They’ve compared Biden’s plan to Stalin’s starvation of 4 million Ukranians in the 1930’s. They claim climate change is “all a myth” and conservation easements are a “scam.”

The cast of characters taking the lead on ASL’s misinformation campaign include Rep. Lauren Boebert, who falsely claims that the government is scheming to “extort private land” and “prevent Americans from utilizing their public lands and enjoying the outdoors;” far-right radio host Trent Loos, who applauded Jan. 6 insurrectionist for “speaking up for the future of liberty and freedom;” and Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, famous for a post on his Facebook campaign page suggesting the US drop an atomic bomb on the Muslim world. (Critics got the post removed, but he refused to apologize.) 

Sponsors of ASL’s events include some of the most powerful climate change denial groups in the nation.

Speaking at ASL’s annual summit in Texas next weekend will be none other than Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky, representing you and me. All three commissioners attended the summit last year. 

What’s more, the county commissioners voted at their Aug. 7 meeting to pay $30,000 of our taxpayer dollars to ASL for “legal advice… and to prepare for potential litigation.” 

ASL is well aware that their anti-conservation stance is unpopular. Their own internal communications refer to the finding that “Four out of five voters in the U.S. support Biden’s 30×30 Plan.” Rather than admit that they oppose conserving our lands, they claim that Biden’s plan “is not about conservation. It is about the destruction of our nation, and it is only the first step in their agenda.” Why is our county supporting this type of baseless and dangerous rhetoric?

The real motive behind the anti-30×30 disinformation campaign is to smear Biden and keep our lands and oceans wide open to oil and gas drilling. It’s part of a decades-long campaign by trade groups with enormous funding from the fossil fuel industry to block climate and conservation action. 

In Garfield County, banking on the pipe dream of another local oil and gas boom is unrealistic and short-sighted. People across the West are tired of the lop-sided focus on drilling at all costs. A recent poll  found that 87% of voters in Colorado, Arizona, and Nevada are concerned about losing natural areas and wildlife habitat; 86% are concerned that oil, mining, and development corporations are making record profits off America’s land without paying their fair share for the damage.

I urge you to remind our commissioners that fossil fuels are not the only resources here. They must stop using our tax dollars to fight conservation efforts and start representing the majority of their constituents, who understand the importance of conserving our precious lands and rivers.

Debbie Bruell of Carbondale chairs the Garfield County Democrats and is a past member of the Roaring Fork Schools Board of Education.

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