For twenty years, Congresswoman Diana DeGette has tried to pass a Colorado wilderness bill. Now she's trying again: Today, July 24, DeGette introduced the Colorado Wilderness Act of 2018, which would provide federal protection for wild spaces in Colorado. If it ever passes.
While increasing demand for recreation and the importance of preserving open space remain key reasons for pushing the bill, the timing of its introduction this round was inspired by the president and his cabinet. “Public lands are under attack by the Trump administration. That’s why the sense of urgency of reintroducing this bill is even greater,” DeGette said in a conference call.
The Department of Interior recently released — and later redacted — a trove of documents showing how Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's recent survey of national monument lands focused on the “value of logging, ranching and energy development that would be unlocked if they were not designated national monuments,” according to a new report from the Washington Post.
DeGette’s bill is aimed at reining in such efforts, which attempt to take wild lands and turn them into cash cows.
In its current form, the bill would protect 33 areas totaling 740,000 acres. Since 1999, DeGette has reintroduced different iterations of the measure at least every two years, but none of them has made it out of a natural resources committee hearing. Each time she reintroduced a version of the bill, DeGette pointed to Republican control of at least one part of the government as the reason it has yet to succeed.
At the same time, wilderness advocates and state lawmakers have pushed smaller pieces of legislation, but few of those got through, either. DeGette hopes that her proposed omnibus bill, which combines many of these smaller efforts, will get the necessary support to make it to a vote. “We believe the stars will be aligning very shortly to get this passed,” she said.
According to DeGette, the aligning stars include population increases in Colorado, perceptions that lands need to be protected from assaults by the Trump administration, increasing demand for tourism and recreation, and sufficient support in Congress.
When asked by Westword whether the Trump administration’s policies toward wild lands would galvanize support for the bill or simply create more obstacles, DeGette replied: “In a place like Colorado, where we value our wild places, the Trump administration’s efforts to increase oil and gas development and to decrease protections actually fires people up and makes them want to preserve the lands.”
The amount of land the proposed bill would protect would comprise about 1 percent of Colorado’s total area, leaving 90 percent of Bureau of Land Management acreage untouched, according to DeGette. This 90 percent could still be leased out for oil and gas mining and extraction.
At the same time DeGette was introducing her bill, Governor John Hickenlooper was sending a letter to Colorado's congressional delegation, asking for full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund — LWCF—before its funding expires in three months. The LWCF has “proven vital for serving the increasing need for outdoor recreation opportunities in Colorado,” he wrote.
"Altogether, we estimate that Colorado has received nearly $270 million from the LWCF over the past five decades, protecting places such as the Great Sand Dunes National Park, Uncompahgre, Arapaho-Roosevelt, Gunnison, and Rio Grande National Forests, and Canyon of the Ancients National Monument."