Polis, Stapleton talk public lands protection during Outdoor Retailer show
Ahead of this week’s Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in Denver, Colorado gubernatorial candidates Walker Stapleton and Jared Polis revealed their divergent — and sometimes similar — views on the management of federally owned public lands in Colorado.
Stapleton, a Republican and the current state treasurer, made it clear in an email interview via a campaign spokesman that local communities should have the final say on the size of nearby national monuments. The Outdoor Retailer show moved from Utah to Colorado last year to protest successful efforts by Utah lawmakers to shrink national monuments there.
“Coloradans cherish our beautiful public lands, and I will always look to our local communities and the people directly impacted by the federal government to guide my thinking on these issues,” Stapleton said. “I’m going to leave decisions that affect Utah to the people of Utah, and I will be a governor that’s focused on protecting Colorado.”
U.S. Rep. Polis, a Democrat who’s represented the state’s 2nd Congressional District since 2009, said in a phone interview late last week that it’s critical for governors to push for the protection of federally owned public lands to benefit the state’s booming outdoor recreation industry.
“It’s very important to have governors of our western states — and, of course, Colorado — who are strong advocates for protecting our public lands because our public lands are not only an iconic part of who we are as Coloradans, but they’re also critically important to our economy for the skiing, the hiking, the fishing, the snowmobiling, the hunting,” Polis said.
Last year, three Colorado national monuments protected since 1996 under the Antiquities Act by presidential decree were in the crosshairs of possible shrinkage after President Donald Trump signed an executive order demanding a U.S. Interior Department review. Ultimately, all three Colorado monuments — including Canyons of the Ancients — avoided the downsizing fate of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah.
“When the Interior Department was considering shrinking Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, the local communities and Colorado’s congressional delegation made it clear Coloradans did not want the federal government to intervene,” Stapleton said. “I support that decision and will always listen to our local communities and stand up for Colorado’s public lands.”
Polis, on the other hand, said the majority of his congressional constituents in District 2 not only don’t want downsizing but, in fact, prefer increased federal protections for outdoor recreation, including wilderness designations.
“I have a different perspective than a Denver politician would about our public lands because the district I’ve represented for over 10 years is over 60 percent public, so it’s how we manage our public lands for our benefit — for our economy, for access, for sport,” said Polis, a Boulder resident whose district extends along the Continental Divide into the Western Slope.
Polis, along with Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, introduced the bicameral Continental Divide Recreation, Wilderness and Camp Hale Legacy Act earlier this year, timing the introduction for the opening of the Outdoor Retailer Snow Show in Denver.
That bill has been in the works for many years, starting as the larger, four-county and far more controversial Hidden Gems proposal and then getting pared down to the current two-county (Eagle and Summit) bill that protects 98,621 acres of public lands as wilderness.
The bill, which includes unique recreation management areas that won’t close any current motorized access points, also accommodates water, electrical, transportation and even mining infrastructure. It would create the first-ever National Historical Landscape at Camp Hale, and it has a broad spectrum of support from local businesses and governments, as well as water and fire districts.
“The land in question is already public land,” Stapleton said of the Continental Divide proposal. “The congressional legislation is trying to change the way the land is managed from multiple use to wilderness. A wilderness designation reduces the number of acceptable uses available to Coloradans and others who wish to enjoy the land and should be carefully considered.”
Asked if that means more public lands in Colorado, which comprise about 36 percent of the state, should be opened up for development, including mining and oil and gas drilling, Stapleton replied, “Where it can be done responsibly and safely, there is no reason for the federal government not to develop the mineral resources available to it, because domestic energy security contributes to our national security.”
Generally, Stapleton appears to favor multiple use over more restrictive designations that may block mechanized travel or resource extraction on public lands.
“When evaluating public land for multiple use, we need to make sure we are balancing a range of interests spanning from recreation and economic development to environmental impact and stewardship,” Stapleton said.
“We can make these decisions on a case-by-case basis, and this will require an active partnership between the state and federal government.”
Despite massive stakeholder input and broad state and local support, Polis said his bill has never even had a hearing before the House Natural Resources Committee chaired by Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop, who pushed hard for reduction of national monuments in his state. Mining and oil and gas interests were reportedly behind those efforts.
Asked about balancing extractive industries with the needs of the recreation and tourism industries, Polis pointed to the huge job growth in the outdoor sector.
“It’s very important as we look at other industries in our state, to say, ‘You know what, not only are our public lands important for us who live here for our fun and enjoyment, but they’re also important because there are hundreds of thousands of jobs that rely on protecting our wild areas,’” Polis said, referring to his Keep Colorado Wild plan.
Outdoor industry clout
According to the Outdoor Industry Association, the recreation sector is responsible for 229,000 jobs in Colorado, generating $28 billion in consumer spending. By comparison, the Colorado Mining Association reports 18,000 mining jobs and $7 billion toward Colorado GDP, while the Colorado Oil and Gas Association on its website shows 2014 job levels of 38,650 workers and nearly $15.8 billion in production value.
Both Stapleton and Polis reject ongoing legislative efforts by Republican state senators to form a commission to conduct a study “to address the transfer of public lands in Colorado from the federal government to the state in contemplation of Congress turning over the management and control of those public lands to the state.”
“Our country’s federal lands, including the National Park system, are truly a unique idea,” Stapleton said. “I believe more can be done by the federal government to ensure that states are being consulted when it comes to the creation or management of federal land, but the land should remain under federal ownership.
“Shifting ownership to the state government would be misguided because it will be a drain on the state budget and create more problems down the road.”
Polis said if elected governor, then he would veto any such state bill if it ever made it to his desk.
“Our public lands are a Colorado treasure. They’re a national treasure. And we need the stability of sound management,” Polis said. “It’s very important that local businesses have that predictability.
“If you run a bike shop and you’re looking at building an expansion and you take out a loan, you don’t want your entire business to be at the whim of who gets elected every year in the state that could close down bike trails or sell them off.”