Trust Our Land: Local protection can help preserve federal lands for future generations (column) | VailDaily.com

Trust Our Land: Local protection can help preserve federal lands for future generations (column)

Bergen Tjossem
Trust Our Land

Looking at the West Avon Preserve from Arrowhead. The West Avon Preserve was acquired and permanently protected by the Eagle Valley Land Exchange.

As a country and a county, we've seen increased pressure over the past two years to privatize and amplify resource extraction on one of our most valuable assets: our public land. What many of us thought was permanently protected is, in fact, quite vulnerable. Federal public land, ranging from national monuments to national forests, is perhaps not as safe from private interests as we wanted to believe.

In the last six months, we've witnessed the largest national monument reduction in U.S. history (Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante), the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling and an onslaught of new legislation designed to deconstruct public land protections. This includes H.R. 622, which aims to strip the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management's law-enforcement authority on the lands they manage across the country.

Today, under the current administration's direction, developers in Colorado could have access to millions of acres of National Forest and BLM lands that seemed "off the table" to developers during prior administrations, regardless of political party.

These lands have always been managed in a way that balances the needs of the state and country. However, these needs are highly subjective and can drastically change with any federal election, new resource extraction technology or cultural shift. These fluctuations in priorities can have lasting impacts on the state of lands. For example, poorly planned mining and logging can permanently harm rivers and ecosystems.

Healthy and productive ecosystems are a need that Americans agree upon, even if they disagree on the relative importance. Healthy and productive public lands, whether they are federal, state or local, provide recreational access, raw materials (e.g. timber), cultural resources, wildlife habitat, livestock forage, climate change mitigation and economic benefits.

Eagle County is made up of 85 percent federal land, which our tourism-based economy depends upon. While locals are encouraged to comment on the management of these lands, local voices have a very small influence at the federal level. Fortunately, Eagle County residents can help protect public lands locally by supporting their municipalities, Eagle County and other groups that can acquire federal land at auction (i.e. sell-off) from the National Forest Service and the BLM.

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In 2013, Eagle County, the Colorado State Land Board, U.S. Forest Service and the Eagle Valley Land Trust closed on the Eagle Valley Land Exchange, with help from several other partners. The exchange encompassed 1,560 acres of formerly federal land across six properties in Avon and Edwards, including the West Avon Preserve. By creating conservation easements with the Eagle Valley Land Trust on each of the six properties, Eagle County and partners guaranteed its permanent protection. Without quick action by local partners, these and other lands sold off by federal agencies would very likely be developed.

U.S. land policy is big, complex and dynamic, but land conservation doesn't need to be. Local conservation is a viable and important way to protect land for our community right now that cannot be unraveled by federal politics, weak norms or the influence of special interest.

Bergen Tjossem is the communications and fundraising coordinator for the Eagle Valley Land Trust. He can be reached at bergen@evlt.org. For more about the Eagle Valley Land Trust and how it is conserving land and benefiting the community, visit http://www.evlt.org.