By Christine Canaly, SLVEC Director
Noting that we were gathering on the ancestral lands of the Ute, Jicarilla Apache, and Cheyenne; and “with thanks to their past and continued stewardship of these lands, that we are able to enjoy them today”, the Southern Rockies Conservation Alliance (SRCA) began its Retreat on a windy, early October morning. The Sangre de Cristo’s were towering above us, as the setting was Orient Land Trust’s (OLT) Everson Ranch. The San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council (SLVEC) hosted this fall retreat to gather environmental/conservation organizations throughout Colorado.
Persons/Groups participating were SRCA chairs Juli Slivka/Wilderness Workshop and Jim Ramey/The Wilderness Society; Beau Kiklis, Conservation Colorado; Ben Katz, Western Slope Conservation Center; Graham Ward, Colorado Wild Public Lands; Erik Molvar, Western Watersheds Project; Matt Sandler, Rocky Mountain Wild; Scott Braden, Colorado Wildlands Project; Jimbo Buickerood, San Juan Citizens Alliance; Jared Bynum, Conservation Colorado; Joe Wood, Wilderness Workshop; Beatriz Soto, Protegete Conservation Colorado; Tanya Henderson, Western Slope Conservation Center; Kendall Chastain, Colorado Mountain Club; Roz McClellan, Rocky Mountain Recreation Initiative; Nathan Goodman, Conservation Colorado; Ean Tafoya, Green Latinos; and Mark Pearson, San Juan Citizens Alliance.
The group proceeded with policy discussions and updates from their locale and how these regions from around the southern rockies fit into state conservation policy and President Biden’s national conservation agenda. According to polls, 80% of Coloradans support the 30 x 30 resolution, conserving US lands and water by 2030. https://www.bennet.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2019/10/bennet-udall-introduce-major-resolution-to-set-national-conservation-goal-conserve-30-of-u-s-lands-and-oceans-by-2030.
Environmental Justice (EJ) was a major nexus for the groups brain storming, to prioritize and integrate human understanding and how shared values of needing the solace in nature can be managed equitably on the public landscape. How can we support these bedrock EJ principals moving forward so that historically marginalized communities can be better served -for genuine and meaningful outdoor connection, and what needs to be restructured within government systems to be more responsive, especially around education and the value of public lands holding a critical place for wildlife and biological diversity, as an American legacy and an asset to be cherished and protected for future generations; and finally, integration within our own public lands advocacy work and organizations that will embody environmental justice values to drive conservation policy.
We huddled into working groups and had discussions revolved around the following principals from Biden Administration America the Beautiful Report: https://www.doi.gov/sites/doi.gov/files/report-conserving-and-restoring-america-the-beautiful-2021.pdf
Principle 1 - Pursue a Collaborative and Inclusive Approach to Conservation
Principle 2 - Conserve America’s Lands and Waters for the Benefit of All People
Principle 4 - Honor Tribal Sovereignty and Support the Priorities of Tribal Nations
Principle 5 - Pursue Conservation and Restoration Approaches that Create Jobs and Support Healthy Communities
Principle 6 - Honor Private Property Rights and Support the Voluntary Stewardship Efforts of Private Landowners and Fishers
Principle 7 - Use Science as a Guide
Principle 8 - Build on Existing Tools and Strategies with an Emphasis on Flexibility and Adaptive Approaches
The SRCA focus then shifted to Wilderness and the current difficulty in moving legislation forward. (Following from SRCA notes and handout). From a historical perspective, Colorado’s congressional delegation has legislated 39 wilderness areas since the Wilderness Act passed in 1964, protecting an impressive 3.5 million acres of public lands. The general, bi-partisan approach of the Colorado congressional delegation towards legislating wilderness in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s was proactive introduction of wilderness legislation by a Senate champions (Sen. Floyd Haskell, Sen. Gary Hart, Sen. Tim Wirth) as a matter of statewide interest and concern.
In the late 1990s, the Republicans assumed control of both houses of Congress. Sen. Wayne Allard and Rep. Scott McInnis, who led the Republican-controlled Colorado delegation on public lands matters, stated they were not unalterably opposed to wilderness legislation but insisted that local support be demonstrated by county commissioner endorsement. Hence, the Spanish Peaks designation (2000) and the James Peak designation (2001) were both endorsed by local county commissioners. The pattern was followed in the Dominguez Canyon legislation (2009) and the Hermosa Creek legislation (2014).
SRCA then reviewed case studies and had discussions about how to move current proposed designations forward, given the contentious attitude being exercised in local politics towards wilderness, that is now impacting national political decision making.
SRCA then discussed and is in the process of updating its current purpose statement and vision. When it is finalized, it will appear on the SRCA website. https://www.southernrockiesconservation.org/
The following day was a robust discussion and listening session regarding the purpose and vision of The Next 100 years Coalition, https://www.next100colorado.org/ and how SRCA can support the efforts of Next 100 Years and work collaboratively to bring clarity and leadership momentum in pursuit of our shared values. This was so valuable for me personally and look forward to supporting the young, vital organizers and advocates that embody environmental justice and environmental protection in the 21st century. Their hard work and determination are an inspiration for us all.
A big thanks to Travis Mayo for getting us great firewood that kept everyone toasty during the cold nights and The Desert Sage for providing a warming meal of delicious tofu and chicken curry.