Eric Washburn: Public lands important
I read with enthusiasm Paul Bonnifield’s letter on public lands and felt that the important points he made deserve to be underscored and expanded upon. The ownership and management of federal lands is critical to the economy of Colorado mountain towns like Steamboat Springs.
In September, roughly 40 national conservation organizations sent a letter to the presidential candidates raising an issue that is increasingly troubling to those of us who routinely hunt, fish, ski, camp and hike on federal lands — calls by some for the federal government to give or sell those lands to private or state entities.
This position has been advocated for some time by organizations in the West like the American Lands Council and was endorsed this summer in the National Republican Party platform.
The federal lands estate — national forests, national parks, national wildlife refuges and the lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management — provide Americans with countless opportunities to pursue a variety of types of outdoor recreation. It is one of the many reasons that people chose to live in the small mountain towns in Colorado and throughout the Rocky Mountains.
This should not be a partisan issue. Republicans and Democrats alike appreciate the chance to recreate on federal lands. In fact, the single greatest promoter of federal lands was Republican President Theodore Roosevelt, a man who probably did more for conservation of wildlife and its habitat than any other American in history.
Many of us who live in Steamboat appreciate the chance to raise our children in close proximity to federal lands so that we could engage in all the recreational activities that those land provide. The idea that the federal lands would be sold to private or state interests is just plain sad.
Beyond the personal recreational opportunities afforded by federal lands, they generate a lot of economic revenue for large and small businesses in towns like Steamboat Springs, as visitors spend their money here on hunting, fishing, camping, skiing and engaging in other outdoor activities.
Throughout the entire state, Colorado’s outdoor recreation industry accounts for nearly $35 billion annually in economic activity. Recreation on federal lands alone is estimated to account for 125,000 Colorado jobs. These lands are the goose that laid the golden eggs.
As we approach this upcoming election, the issue of whether to maintain our federal lands for future generations or to sell them to the highest bidder is one that deserves a lot more attention than it is getting.
Presidential candidate Clinton has stated that she agrees that public lands need to stay in public ownership and management. Donald Trump Jr. recently suggested that he supports that view, and we hope his father agrees.
Senator Bennet, Governor Hickenlooper, former Colorado Senator and Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, as well as many Republican politicians around the country, all share this view.
It is an issue that appropriately has been brought up in the Colorado CD-3 Congressional race, and I echo Paul Bonnifield’s suggestion that candidates submit to Steamboat Pilot & Today a clear description of their views on this critical topic, so that the public can vote knowing where each of them stands.
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