Guest column: Biden infrastructure directives a win for rural Colorado
The Civilian Conservation Corps, the CCC that built Red Rocks amphitheatre in the foothills outside Denver and Rim Rock Drive in Colorado National Monument, also constructed hundreds of miles of irrigation canals and ditches, recreation trails, roads and all sorts of resource-based projects upon which the western Colorado economy still runs today.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, especially the Forest Service, benefited the most from CCC projects in Colorado, which ran from 1933-1942. Tens of thousands labored on forest heath projects, to improve wildlife habitat, on watershed restoration, and to build trails and other public facilities across federal forest lands from Durango to Fort Collins, Craig to Pueblo and places in between — including the White River and the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison national forests.
In addition to the USDA’s Forest Service and (then) Soil Conservation Service, which works to maintain the health of agricultural lands, the Interior Department also saw many CCC projects. The Bureau of Reclamation (which manages federal water projects in the west), the Grazing Service (precursor to the Bureau of Land Management ), and of course the National Park Service all were able to complete vital projects in Colorado thanks to the CCC.
And for agriculture and rural communities, the CCC was an incredible national investment in our region. It brought thousands of jobs and built needed projects, and these have generated millions of dollars in return ever since. Popular attractions, favorite trails, and critical irrigation infrastructure would not have been completed but for the CCC. And importantly, these projects not only delivered for our communities and economies but they also improved the health of our forests and watersheds, of wildlife habitat, and improved soil and farmlands.
We now face a crisis even more dire than the Great Depression. To help meet it, Colorado representative Joe Neguse has helped pass his Civilian Climate Corps out of the House Committee of Natural Resources as part of the Build Back Better package being championed by President Biden. With the Build Back Better plan we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make an investment in our future as bold and forward-looking as what the oft-called Greatest Generation had the foresight to leave us today.
As marked up by the committee, the new CCC would allocate $3.5 billion dollars to put Americans to work rehabilitating, restoring and making our lands and water supplies more resilient. Rep. Neguse’s CCC will help western communities prepare for the coming impacts of climate change – from fire-wise mitigations around neighborhoods and drought resilience, to infrastructure hardening (like highways) and better stormwater management.
And the new CCC can also help tilt the carbon balance away from worsening the effects of climate change, which is certain unless we act now. Through public lands conservation projects and implementing climate-smart land-use to bolster carbon-uptake on ranch and farmlands, CCC labor can better enable us to adapt to and to meet the climate crisis head-on.
We are already seeing the impacts of global heating, and science tells us it will get worse. But how bad it gets is still up to us. We can put people to work now repairing damaged lands and addressing the climate crisis. We will benefit from this work today, which will create local jobs in rural communities and improve ecosystem health. We also gain by getting better prepared for what is coming. But by not investing to meet this challenge head-on at this critical moment, we will face a far costlier and more severe reckoning.
There can be little doubt that paying for climate action now, preventing even worse harm to come if we fail to do so, will cost us less in the long run. But whatever the payoff in harm reduction — or the penalty for damage already done — there is simply no more time for pause.
The new CCC and the Build Back Better package should be promptly passed by Congress and sent quickly to the president’s desk. It deserves the support of Colorado’s two U.S. Senators, of Rep. Boebert, and of our entire House delegation. We owe it to those coming after us to make this down payment in the future today.
Pete Kolbenschlag is a climate and conservation consultant and activist, and the director of the Colorado Farm & Food Alliance. He writes and works from the North Fork Valley in Delta County.
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