My View: The Wild West
Without Responsible Land Stewardship, America’s Great Outdoors Suffer
Bill Dvorak, Public Lands Community Organizer at NWF
I love it here. I’ve run more than 60,000 miles of rivers during my nearly 40 years as a recreation outfitter. Colorado’s wilderness is a special and fragile place, home to canyon vistas, alpine scenery, and critical wildlife habitats.
We must continue to develop the next generation of conservation stewards who will cherish our public lands and wildlife habitats, and responsibly interact with the planet. The America’s Great Outdoors listening sessions, convened nationwide by the White House, foster dialogue about the future of conservation in the 21st century.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa offers a useful way to approach discussions about the outdoors. He calls parks and green spaces his city’s “green infrastructure”. Nationally, our green infrastructure reaches from the tiniest pocket parks out into our great national parks and wilderness areas—from Denver’s Confluence Park along the Platte River, for example, to the Indian Peaks Wilderness, Rocky Mountain National Park and beyond.
The cities and suburbs where four in five of us now live are a likely place to start repairing our natural heritage. Fortunately, there already exists a program that works: the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which pays for conservation with development proceeds from offshore oil and gas leasing. Though the LWCF has rarely been funded at anything close to its annual authorization of $1 billion, its record over the past 45 years is remarkable. A logical first step is for President Obama to call for full funding of LWCF. But it mustn’t be the only step. The national America’s Great Outdoors discussion must also focus on our precious public lands.
The Wild West
The surest way to conserve the best of our public lands is through protective designations that simply, definitively declare some places off-limits to development. There are places on our public lands best left to do what they have always done. Among these places are vital watersheds, intact ecosystems, still-wild landscapes and essential wildlife habitat. Protecting them has always been important; climate change makes it imperative.
The science is clear by now that large, connected landscapes are more resilient than fragmented ones and so likelier to afford species—our own included—time and space to adapt to change.
Colorado is blessed with many of such places—the Dolores River corridor, the Vermillion Basin, Browns Canyon and the lands included in the Hidden Gems wilderness proposal. America needs more responsible conservation stewards to ensure we protect our great outdoors and keep the wild in the west.