Hickenlooper shares plan to support outdoor recreation, conservation during Steamboat conference call
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — During a video conference call Monday morning in Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. offices, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper announced a multifaceted plan to promote the state’s outdoor industry and boost conservation efforts.
He was supposed to travel to Steamboat Springs to unveil his plan in person, but inclement weather changed those plans.
Hickenlooper, who is campaigning to unseat Republican Sen. Cory Gardner in the 2020 election, spoke with local leaders about his plan’s initiatives. They include, among other things, expanding access to public lands, supporting conservation legislation, addressing climate change and ending the U.S.-China trade war.
“We are at a unique and urgent moment in time for protecting these lands and waters, as our actions in the next decade will influence the trajectory of nature and people for decades to come,” Hickenlooper wrote in an introduction to his conservation plan. “Consequently, we need to prioritize conservation now, so that we can maintain our outdoor heritage and pass it along to future generations of Coloradans.”
Overall, his initiatives aim to strike a balance between the economy and environmental protections.
Protecting public lands, expanding recreation
During the conference, Hickenlooper criticized the Trump Administration for stripping protections for public lands in favor of energy development. On Thursday, Feb. 6, the U.S. Department of the Interior unveiled plans to allow mining and drilling on almost one million acres of previously protected land in southern Utah.
Hickenlooper vowed to be an advocate for the protection of public lands and the outdoor industry that derives much of its revenue from access to those lands. He referenced a 2018 report that showed the value of Colorado’s outdoor recreation has grown to more than $62.5 billion and provides about 511,000 jobs across the state.
“We need to be good stewards of Colorado and good stewards of the economy,” Hickenlooper said.
To this end, he also announced initiatives to expand access to public lands, particularly to low-income families. He wants to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has seen cuts under the current administration, and dedicate 3% of the fund to efforts that encourage more recreation.
Larry Desjardin, president of Keep Routt Wild, a local environmental activist organization, urged caution over the expansion of recreation. Across Colorado, concerns over environmental degradation due to recreation, namely in the form of reduced wildlife populations, have pitted interests of a growing outdoor industry with the need to protect habitats.
“What we need to do is be smart about increasing access,” Desjardin told Hickenlooper. “If we don’t do this in a smart way, we are going to lose the goose that gave the golden egg,” referring to risking the integrity of the outdoor spaces that make outdoor recreation so popular in Colorado.
Addressing climate change
Routt County Commissioner Beth Melton told Hickenlooper about local efforts to address climate change, another major component of his Senate campaign. During the conference, he called climate change “the most serious threat humanity has ever faced.”
The Board of Routt County Commissioners has teamed up with the city of Steamboat to draft a local climate action plan, which also seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and waste, as well as invest in more renewable fuel sources.
While Melton acknowledged this as a step in the right direction, she told Hickenlooper that mountain communities like Steamboat cannot solve the issues surrounding climate change on their own.
“We need our federal government to be focusing on climate action and be a partner on the world stage in all of the efforts that need to happen internationally to really make an impact on climate change,” Melton said.
Hickenlooper alluded to his climate action plan, which he released in October 2019, that calls for the use of 100% renewable energy by 2030 and major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. He plans, among other things, to develop more green infrastructure in and around Colorado, including more public charging stations for electric vehicles.
He also aims to support energy transition efforts to help communities divest from fossil fuels while retraining workers and adding renewable energy grids.
One of the major challenges to passing legislation on climate change, he acknowledged, are partisan divides that often pit Democrats, who are generally supportive of climate action, against Republicans, who often block environmental legislation.
Asked what he plans to do about this divide, Hickenlooper said he would appeal to moderates to sway the scales toward greater climate action.
“If you can persuade them this future is going to make their lives better without changing their way of life or paying more taxes, then you get moderates to vote for Congressional representatives who are part of that process,” he said.
Ending trade war
The last local leader to speak with Hickenlooper on Monday was Bill Gamber, founder and owner of the outdoor company Big Agnes. His company has been hit hard by the U.S.-China trade war, costing him more than $500,000 in extra tariffs this year alone.
Gamber approved of Hickenlooper’s policies, particularly his plan to establish a national recreation office. Such an office, he said, would promote outdoor recreation on federal land, establish trade policies and seek to grow the outdoor industry.
Criticism from opponent
Following the public release of his conservation plan, Hickenlooper’s opponent, Republican Sen. Gardner, criticized the proposed policies, calling them imitations of his own.
“Hickenlooper’s copycat conservation agenda is nothing more than empty talking points based on the victories Cory Gardner has already delivered and continues to deliver for Colorado every day in the United States Senate,” Joanna Rodriguez, spokesperson with the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said in a statement on Monday.
For example, Gardner was one of two senators who introduced and helped passed a bill to secure the permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, Gardner’s office pointed out.
On Monday, the Trump administration made a move to thwart that effort, proposing to eliminate nearly all of the program’s funding for the 2021 fiscal year.
Gardner also introduced the Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact Act of 2016, which enumerated the value of Colorado’s outdoor industry, and advocated for the protection of federal public lands, namely the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.
Hickenlooper also has faced ethical criticism. In March, Colorado’s Independent Ethics Commission will meet to discuss allegations that during his time as governor, Hickenlooper improperly accepted free air travel from friends and supporters, according to a report from Colorado Public Radio.
In a letter, Hickenlooper’s dismissed the allegations and accused Republicans who filed the ethics complaint of converting the hearing into a “political circus.”
In the conclusion of his conference Monday, Hickenlooper said he would not allow political partisanship to affect his work as a U.S. senator.
“I will never put the party above what I think is best for Colorado, and ultimately, best for the country,” he said.
Steamboat Springs City Council member Sonja Macys, Steamboat Flyfisher owner Johnny Spillane and Ski Corp. Director of Sustainability and Community Engagement Sarah Jones also participated in the conference call with Hickenlooper.
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