Vail Valley Voices: Wilderness matters; why I’m for Hidden Gems
May 6, 2010
I am a fourth-generation Coloradan. I was born into a ranching and mining family, grew up as a ski racer, and became a rancher and businessman.
I have been a part of Colorado’s heritage my entire life. I currently spend my time between my home and business in Vail and my ranch near Powderhorn in Gunnison County. Skiing, hunting, horseback riding and hiking throughout Colorado is as big a part of my life now as it was when I was a kid.
I have seen significant changes since then — some for the better, many for the worse.
In my short lifetime, I have seen how industries like mining and oil and gas drilling have devastated our lands and contaminated our rivers and drinking water. The loss of wildlife habitat has been tremendous.
As a boy, everywhere we went had abundant wildlife. Forests were healthy.
Today, I see fragmented herds of deer and elk, pressured wildlife that have actually changed their behavior trying to adapt to the increasing human presence all around them.
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Wilderness is the best protection we have for public lands, the best way to conserve wildlife habitat, protect clean water and preserve Colorado’s heritage.
As a rancher, I support wilderness because I know that ranchers are the best stewards of the land, and wilderness complements this stewardship. In fact, one of my grazing allotments overlaps with the Hidden Gems Powderhorn Addition proposal area, and I am happy to know that this piece of land could be permanently protected from the encroachment of recreational and development pressures that have hurt so many other ranchers in western Colorado.
As a businessman, I support wilderness because I recognize that abundant wildlands, healthy ecosystems and outstanding opportunities to hunt, fish, raft, hike and view wildlife make up the foundation of Colorado’s mountain economies.
I support the Hidden Gems Wilderness Campaign in all of its efforts because it is working with local stakeholders to ensure that biologically diverse lands containing headwaters, vital wildlife habitat, and diverse ecosystems are protected before human pressures fragment and develop them.
By designating more wilderness, we ensure that the lands and economies that sustain us will continue to thrive.
While growth can sometimes have its advantages, too much growth can be harmful.
Colorado’s population has almost doubled in the past 30 years, and is predicted to double again by the year 2050.
With more people comes the need for more resources. Even if we have good intentions to protect our environment, these good intentions can be overwhelmed by the state’s staggering population growth.
Thus, there is no better time to protect our last wild places, because at the rate we’re going these lands will most likely be flattened, drilled, mined and fragmented in the near future. It is important not to contaminate the remaining pristine lands we have left. We can’t use up all of our resources just because they are there.
I want my grandchildren and their grandchildren to be able to experience these mountains as I have been able to.
Additionally, with growth comes technology. While technology can often be advantageous in fields like medicine or communications, it often hurts wildlands.
Our surrounding ecosystems have existed for hundreds of thousands of years without human management, and to remain healthy, we must let them thrive without human incursions.
My big concern is the technology advancements in summer-winter off-road vehicles. Not only are more people recreating on these vehicles, but these vehicles are quickly adapting so that we can go everywhere, even into the deepest, steepest backcountry in a short amount of time.
This has huge implications for the future of our mountains. We must have places where we can enjoy solitude and silence and the mountains in their natural state. These places and experiences are what reconnect us with the earth and what it means to be human.
I urge you to let your elected officials know that you support Hidden Gems and more wilderness in your backyard. We must act now before these lands lose their wilderness quality.
Please e-mail Rep. Polis at email@example.com or call his Frisco office, 970-668-3240, and let him know you support protecting Colorado’s wildlife, water, economic sustainability, and heritage by protecting the Hidden Gems.