Our view: Steamboat stands for its public land
The Steamboat Institute brought U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to town for the organization’s annual Freedom Conference on Friday, and citizens in the Steamboat Springs and Routt County area took advantage of his visit to gather in support of public lands.
The Stand For Our Land event, held Friday on the Routt County Courthouse lawn, was more of a rally than a protest, and it attracted about 1,400 people. It was an opportunity for individuals to make their collective voices heard on an issue that is vitally important to Steamboat Springs and Routt County.
Zinke was not in attendance at the rally. He did grant Steamboat Pilot & Today reporter Matt Stensland time for an interview Friday morning before heading out to the Silver Creek Fire, a wildfire burning in the Routt National Forest in Routt and Grand counties.
Zinke then attended the Freedom Conference Friday night where he served as the event’s keynote speaker. During his only public appearance in Steamboat, he spoke to a few hundred people at a high-dollar event at the top of the Gondola hosted by The Steamboat Institute.
And while we appreciated Zinke’s willingness to speak to a member of the local press, we wish he also had taken the time to meet with members of the general public at a more inclusive event or scheduled a meeting with community leaders to hear their thoughts on public lands and the important role they play in the local economy.
As voiced at the rally and in letters to the editor published in advance of the event, our area is growing and flourishing, in large part, because of our location near three wilderness areas, several state parks and thousands upon thousands of acres of federally-managed forest land that attract visitors from all across the country and the world to the Yampa Valley. We are also home to a world-class ski resort, which operates on national forest land, as well as a number of thriving outdoor recreation-specific businesses that contribute greatly to the local economy.
A Steamboat-based economist has estimated that recreation generates over $134 million in local spending. Statewide, public lands contribute $28 billion in consumer spending and 229,000 jobs.
In addition to monetary contributions, public lands also play a role in combating global warming, conserving biodiversity and providing safe places for plants and animals to reproduce as climate conditions change.
Under the current administration, public lands seem to be under attack, and Zinke, as the head of the Department of the Interior and a member of President Trump’s cabinet, is the public face of those efforts. Since being tapped to lead the department, Zinke has not been proactive in meeting with the public, and his schedule during his visit to Steamboat seemed to underscore that fact.
We appreciate The Steamboat Institute bringing Zinke to town. We are proud to be part of a community where 1,400 people care enough about this beautiful place we call home to gather together peacefully in the name of public lands, while at the same time, another group of passionate locals gathered in support of issues important to them.
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