06.20.20

Protecting the great American outdoors — and Mesa County's economy

We often say that public lands are part of who we are in Colorado, but Mesa County and the surrounding region are especially defined by these treasured places. More than 70% of land in Mesa County is owned by the people, and the local economy is closely tied to the successes of our lands. In short, what’s good for public lands is good for Mesa County.

It’s why we fought for years to have Grand Junction become the headquarters for the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM). It’s also why we are thrilled the U.S. Senate passed the Great American Outdoors Act, Sen. Gardner’s bipartisan legislation to dedicate full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and address the rising backlog of maintenance projects on federal lands. This will help strengthen our local economies and ease the recovery from the hardship caused by COVID-19, but also provide for our public lands for generations to come.

Mountain towns have been some of the hardest hit by this pandemic. Ski resorts had some of the earliest outbreaks of COVID-19 and have endured extreme financial losses as tourism ceased, ski season ended early, and restaurants and hotels were forced to close. Our public lands normally attract adventurers from all over the globe — as well as their spending — but both vanished overnight. Small businesses, schools, and even the streets we drive on in Mesa County depend on these public lands and the visitors who come to enjoy them. So when we look at how this region can recover from this pandemic, we must consider our strong connection to public lands.

The Great American Outdoors Act will boost this critical sector of our economy by providing full and permanent funding for the LWCF, something that we have fought to achieve for years. When Congress created the LWCF, up to $900 million in profits from offshore energy production was authorized to enhance public lands, cost-free to the taxpayer. Sadly, people in Washington diverted these funds to other purposes, letting critical access for things like hunting and fishing opportunities go to waste. When President Trump signed into law $495 million for the LWCF last year, it was the highest funding level in more than 15 years.

Full and permanent funding of $900 million for the LWCF year after year means more Colorado conservation projects can be completed and Coloradans will have greater access to the lands they own. At Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, LWCF projects have increased access to some of the best hiking, fishing, climbing, and rafting in the world. LWCF funds were used to protect access to more than 88,000 acres of public lands along the Yampa River, allowing sportsmen and women and recreationists to hunt and fish on the land for decades to come.

Underfunding our conservation efforts has consequences — and in Colorado it means more than $500 million worth of deferred projects have piled up on our federal lands. More than $27 million in projects at Dinosaur National Monument are deferred, and another $21.1 million at Colorado National Monument. Curecanti National Recreation Area’s share of delayed projects has reached more than $15.5 million, and there’s another $7.7 million worth of work to be done at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

The jobs are lined up at the same time as the coronavirus has forced a record number of Coloradans out of work — nearly 500,000 workers in our state have now filed for unemployment. In addition to fully funding the LWCF, the Great American Outdoors Act will provide billions to address this nationwide backlog of maintenance projects and get Americans to work right away to benefit the entire country.

We know people are eager to get back out there. State parks in Colorado during this pandemic have only become more popular than they ever were. As the rest of the country begins to appreciate public lands as much as Coloradans do, let’s give them the best we have to offer. Let’s provide the funding and commitment worthy of the public lands we own. Let’s pass the Great American Outdoors Act into law.

 

U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Robin Brown, Executive Director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership

Grand Junction Daily Sentinel