Tim Corrigan: Public lands are region’s lifeblood
Each year, visitors flock to Routt County and Steamboat Springs to take in the majestic views, abundant recreation opportunities, and to explore the area’s wild public lands. These same experiences and lands are not only important to tourists, they are the lifeblood of the region. Our public lands are important to cattle ranchers, local business owners, the oil and gas industry, conservationists who want to set aside special places for future generations and the wildlife that call these lands home.
That’s why when Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke visits Steamboat this week, he won’t be able to ignore our unified voice: we value our public lands and have an expectation that our community and millions of other Americans will continue to play a role in how these lands are managed.
Secretary Zinke will be a guest in our community on Friday when he gives the keynote address to an exclusive group of conservatives at the Steamboat Institute. It is not clear whether the Secretary will use his first visit to Routt County in his official position to meet with locals or even his own field staff. We welcome Secretary Zinke with the hope that he recognizes that local stakeholders are paying attention and have real concerns about future management decisions concerning public lands that will have real impacts on our community.
Forty-five percent of the land in our county is public land managed by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. A local economist has estimated that recreation alone generates over $134 million in local spending, creates $16 million in household income and generates more than $5 million in tax revenue.
Our county is home to more than 200 outdoor-oriented companies and hundreds of other energy and agricultural related jobs. How we manage these lands into the future will have direct impacts on those numbers, as well as our air, our water and our wildlife.
For decades, we have celebrated success stories where diverse stakeholders have worked together to find common ground as well as common sense solutions to challenging public lands issues. Efforts to protect sage grouse, ensure access to important recreation areas and guide energy production in a way that respects our environmental values have proven that when people who care about these issues are brought into the process early, we can reach a much better outcome that reduces conflict and litigation.
To strike this balance, we must have transparent processes, account for the facts and science and be open to new ideas and input. We must advocate for our public lands and ensure continued funding for the management of these lands. We need to further programs that offset development on public lands by investing in other community conservation efforts, like the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
We can’t do that without the open ear and thoughtful consideration of our opinions by our Interior Secretary. Mr. Zinke, we urge you to spend some time with the folks of Routt County. Join us for the rally. Shake hands with those whose quality of life is built around public lands and continued access to them. Meet with local elected officials on both sides of the aisle.
We’ll be counting on you to hear our voices, too.
Routt County commissioner
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