Opinion: Environmental preservation must become a community priority
Free Press Opinion Columnist
As he heads into his second year of college, my son has devoted every moment he can to appreciating the public lands of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and Arizona. He has just added fishing to his repertoire, but he’s always been passionate about photography, hiking, camping and rock hounding. As a young man traveling without the hindrances of his parents, he boasts of visiting more than a dozen national parks, and monuments, and hiking hundreds of miles in the past year.
I think he’d wither away without his access to the open spaces provided by national parks, forests, and other public lands. I probably would, too, and the same is surely true of most people with the good fortune of living in Mesa County.
People who appreciate the land come from all backgrounds and political ideologies and agree on little other than the fact that our public lands are threatened. As wildfires rage across North American forests and droughts become cataclysmic, the prevailing attitude among Mesa County elected officials and their constituents seems to be that the primary problem is government management of public lands.
With the beautiful weather July’s rain has brought to the Grand Valley, it’s impossible not to appreciate living in Colorado. It’s easy to forget that for days before the rain started, our Bookcliffs were shrouded by the smoke of forest fires and that the our clear, fresh, air will inevitably become polluted again.
Forests all over North America are aflame. In Alaska alone, millions of acres have burned and thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes.
Of all the places making the news, Olympic National Park is the one with which I’m most familiar. As the place of my first backpacking trip outside of Colorado, its forests could not have been more different from any I’d visited before. With annual precipitation 10 feet more than Colorado’s forests receive, camping gear was always getting soaked and a decent fire was an impossibility. If there is a place where fairies live, it must have been among the lichens growing everywhere like cups and saucers, and the ferns perpetually adorned with water droplets as colorful as fairy dust.
Olympic National Park is a temperate rainforest fed by glaciers, which have receded exponentially in recent years. The forest has become a tinderbox where dehydrated lichens and moss fuel the fires, which have burned hundreds of acres this summer and are not expected to be contained until late September.
Besides clearing the air, rain has confined Colorado wildfires to a mere six at the moment, all of which are contained and cover less than a few hundred acres each. We can only consider ourselves lucky to have a reprieve from the record-breaking droughts and wildfires recent years have brought Colorado.
As forests turn to dust, the fact that too many of us are burying our heads in the sand couldn’t be more evident than in Mesa County. Just a few weeks ago, the priority of our three county commissioners was sending a letter to the Bureau of Land Management on our behalf, protesting proposed plans to protect endangered sage grouse with arguments based upon opposition to government intervention.
Before that, our county commissioners rallied with Senator Ray Scott and 200 constituents in response to the BLM’s proposed road closures. In its Resource Management Plan, the BLM proposed closing 850 miles of roads, most of which were dead-ends or duplicates created by illegal off-road driving. Others proposed closings would protect the environment by reducing erosion and dust and by preserving wildlife habitat.
With the proposed management plan, we would still have thousands of miles of public roads available, but opponents of the plan, led by a senator and all our commissioners, insist any environmental protections will result in complete loss of access to public lands and a termination of hunting and fishing rights.
Our public lands are under attack, and the threat does not come from those trying to conserve them. As we continue to see the effects of climate change and human encroachment, I wonder how much longer the logic of trying to preserve even a bit of our natural, wild places, will be ignored.
A fourth generation Coloradan, Free Press columnist Robyn Parker is the former host of the progressive community radio show, Grand Valley Live. She is a stay-at-home mom, active community volunteer and board member for local environmental and social justice organizations. Robyn may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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