Our recreation economy depends upon public lands and the president

Keywords: Durango Herald,

We are fortunate to live in Southwest Colorado, surrounded by a rugged and natural landscape that provides us opportunities not seen in many parts of the country.

Not only do visitors come to our area from near and far to discover and explore, the locals graze cattle, hunt, gather firewood, hike and bike on lands that those who came before us had the foresight to set aside for future generations.

While there is a long history associated with public lands in the region, it is the story that is being shaped about our lands today that will have a lasting impact on communities like Cortez and Durango for decades to come.

As Congressman Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.) is being considered as our new interior Secretary in Washington, and as the Trump administration begins to review its own public lands policy, there are two things that are important for a new administration to take to heart: The vital role America’s public lands play in the $646 billion national outdoor recreation economy, and the broad public support for the president’s historic ability to use the Antiquities Act to protect sensitive scientific and culturally significant lands in the future.

If confirmed, Zinke will be entrusted to steward the Antiquities Act and ensure that our national monuments, parks and other public lands get the attention and resources they need and deserve.

Passed in 1906, the Antiquities Act has been used by almost every president, Republican and Democrat alike, and authorizes all future presidents to protect historic landmarks or objects of “scientific or historic interest.” Many iconic national parks, like the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon, Grand Canyon and Joshua Tree, were first protected under the Antiquities Act.

More recently, President Obama used the Act to protect the resources (and their contributions to the outdoor economy) in places like Browns Canyon on the headwaters of the Arkansas River and the vast recreation and historic Native American lands in Utah’s Bears Ears and Nevada’s Gold Butte.

In a recent confirmation hearing, Congressman Zinke was noncommittal about his approach to safeguarding our national monuments. While it was heartening to hear him express the importance of many national parks and public lands, he implied an openness to pursue rolling back protections for others, including Bears Ears National Monument, just over the border in Utah.

If confirmed, we hope that he will listen to an American public that overwhelmingly supports protecting our public lands for the future. In recent years, polls have shown that the majority of voters support presidential proposals to permanently protect public lands, monuments, wildlife refuge areas and wilderness.

Rather than listening to the few in Congress who would seek to sell off or undermine protections for our public lands, we encourage the incoming administration to follow the example of the bipartisan leaders in Congress. Both of Colorado’s Senators, Gardner and Bennet, have voted to oppose efforts to undermine the Antiquities Act and sell off or transfer public lands. They recognize how important existing and future national monuments are to our quality of life and our economic future in the Four Corners region.

Colorado’s rural growth and economic success is, and will continue to be, in large part dependent on the recreation and outdoor economy. According to research from the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation in Colorado alone generates $13.2 billion in consumer spending, 125,000 direct jobs, $4.2 billion in wages and salaries and $994 million in state and local tax revenue, benefitting everyone in the state.

These recreation and outdoor economy statistics must be taken seriously by the new administration when making future decisions about our public lands.

Most of us understand the economic impact here in the Four Corners where our motels, restaurants, gas stations, outfitters and other local businesses rely heavily on access to, and quality management of, public lands.

We urge the new administration to stand for what makes America, and Colorado, great — our shared public lands and the ability of the president and the Interior Department to protect them for future generations via the Antiquities Act.

Diane Wren is the owner of Osprey Packs, headquartered in Cortez. Reach her at (970) 529-7565.