PUEBLO CHIEFTAIN: Protect Colorado's Parks and Forests

By: Maite Arce

With members of Congress heading home later this month, Sen. Cory Gardner has an opportunity to hear from his constituents just how important our nation's public lands are. With President Donald Trump's administration rolling back protections on national monuments and the Land and Water Conservation Fund set to expire in September, we need him to listen.

Colorado's spectacular landscapes drive tremendous tourism dollars and outdoor recreation spending. Rocky Mountain National Park is the fourth most visited park in the United States while White River National Forest is the most visited forest.

The Outdoor Industry Association determined that Colorado's $20.8 billion outdoor recreation economy also is responsible for nearly four times the number of jobs as the state's oil and gas and mining industries, combined. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis determined that the industry added $374 billion to the economy and accounted for 2 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product. Furthermore, a 2017 report from Headwaters Economics found that local economies surrounding national monuments, including Browns Canyon in Central Colorado, expanded following the creation of those monuments. 

Despite these positive economic indicators, the Trump administration has focused more on putting these public lands into the portfolios of private companies rather than keeping them in the hands of the public. In December, President Trump initiated the largest rollback of public lands protections in history -- Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah were being shrunk by 2 million acres -- in order to make the land available for mining, drilling or logging.

This is why Hispanic Access Foundation is calling on Sen. Gardner to speak out against the administration's efforts, to tell President Trump that these measures, which undermine the sanctity of these locations, is not acceptable -- not now, not ever.

This sentiment especially is true within the state's Latino community, one of the fastest growing populations in Colorado that is just beginning to realize its voting power. The 2018 Colorado College "Conservation in the West" poll found that three-quarters of Latinos say the administration should focus on protecting public lands, while only 18 percent prefer more emphasis on producing more domestic energy through responsible drilling and mining on national park lands.

In addition to the public lands attacks, Congress soon will consider permanently authorizing and fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

In the last 50 years, no government program has been more successful in preserving our country's precious natural resources and improving access to the outdoors. The LWCF has been instrumental in creating, protecting and ensuring access to more than 41,000 local parks and recreation parks across the nation. Nearly 1,000 sites in Colorado -- including several local Pueblo parks -- have benefited from this program. All this at no cost to taxpayers, as LWCF is funded through royalties paid by companies drilling offshore. 

Americans of all stripes reap the benefits of these protected places which support local businesses and provide access and opportunities for hunters, anglers, hikers, bikers and campers. For many Latinos and other diverse urban communities, sites funded through this program often provide their only means to experience the outdoors. From funding city and state parks to funding trail development for Denver Public Schools, LWCF has made a significant mark on Colorado's outdoors, which is why Coloradans need Sen. Gardner to demonstrate his commitment to their interests in securing the future of this program.

Sen. Gardner, it's time to listen. Join youth on a hike on one of Colorado's many trails, visit with families at an urban park made possible through LWCF or talk with one of the many outdoor recreation companies that depend on public lands to succeed. In doing so, we hope you will hear why your leadership on these issues matters.

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