As a native Westerner, I'm passionate about preserving our natural environment and quality of life. For generations, my family has hiked, skied, and rafted many of Colorado's wild lands and rivers and protecting these landscapes is one of the primary reasons I sought public office.
As a member of the U.S. Senate — and previously the U.S. House of Representatives — protecting our natural resources has always been one of my top priorities. Along with my position on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, I chair the Senate Subcommittee on National Parks, which oversees legislation and other issues related to our national park system, including outdoor recreation, land use and historic preservation. These issues are vitally important to our state’s economy and natural heritage, and my position gives me a powerful voice on these important Colorado priorities.
In 2011, the president signed a bill that I authored to allow summertime activities at ski areas on National Forest land. The act revises the 1986 law governing the permitting of ski areas on National Forests, clarifying that the U.S. Forest Service can allow year-round recreational activities where appropriate. This important change will increase opportunities for recreation in ski communities during the shoulder seasons, creating jobs and boosting local economies in Colorado and across the nation.
Another goal of mine is to secure full and dedicated funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). Congress created LWCF in 1965 to protect and preserve open spaces for future generations of Americans using a small fraction of royalties from offshore oil drilling. Although LWCF is authorized to receive $900 million annually, it is subject to congressional appropriations, meaning it often receives significantly less. This threatens our wild and open spaces, and that’s why I co-sponsored bipartisan legislation to create a designated LWCF “lockbox” to provide full and permanent funding for this critical fund. This will ensure that current and future generations continue to enjoy Colorado’s rich outdoor heritage and I'll continue to push for its passage.
Finally, as I advocate for Colorado and our nation's natural treasures, I believe it’s important to listen to all points of view. In the West, we know that it’s only by working together that we can overcome our differences and do what’s right for our families and our communities. That's how I've always worked, and it’s how I'll continue to bring people together to get things done.
Forest Management, Bark Beetles and Fire Risk
When our forests are not healthy, Colorado's economy, environment and water are all at risk. That’s why two of my main priorities have always been to promote smarter forest management policies and protect Colorado communities from wildfire. I will continue fighting to make sure our forest-management agencies have all the support and policies they need to protect public safety, clean water, natural resources and local jobs.
In addition, as the bark beetle epidemic continues to spread across our Western forests, it's clear that we need to take action to better protect our forests — as well as homeowners and anyone who spends time among the trees — from wildfire and beetle-weakened trees. That’s why I am leading the effort to devote more federal resources to address this serious problem. I continue to work with my colleagues in Colorado and in Congress to look for creative solutions to better manage our forests and support innovative uses for dead and dying trees.
I am also always looking for creative ways to support our forest-management industry and the important jobs it brings to rural communities. Most recently, I've seen how supporting our state’s few remaining sawmills and helping cut through red tape — as well as encouraging more homebuilders to use beetle-kill in home construction — creates jobs and reduces the risk of wildfire. In addition to employing hundreds of Coloradans, the mills play a crucial role in the fight against the bark beetle epidemic and wildfire by helping clear hazardous fuels and beetle-killed trees and recycling them into wood products. By creating new technologies, innovative products and markets for beetle-killed wood, these new forest-thinning projects in the wildland-urban interface are full of promise for our mountain communities. That’s why I will continue working to improve the health of our forests and to protect the jobs and communities they support.
Protecting our Public Lands
As an avid outdoorsman, I appreciate the need to respect and protect our public lands while also ensuring that the resources and recreational opportunities they provide remain accessible to all. Throughout my years in Congress, I have worked to balance these two needs, which is why I’m so proud to have helped to establish several new wilderness areas (James Peak and Rocky Mountain National Park) and wildlife refuges (Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge) in Colorado.
I’m also proud to have supported the 2009 Omnibus Public Lands Act, which protects some of our nation's greatest treasures for future generations. It includes several provisions that I authored, making good on long-discussed efforts to preserve the Front Range Mountain Backdrop — resolving a Nixon-era promise for wilderness at Rocky Mountain National Park — and taking an important step toward protecting water supplies for the Arkansas Valley. The law is an historic achievement and represents 10 years of my work to bridge divides and collaborate with people of all opinions. That’s why, on April 9, 2009, I proudly joined U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and other members of the Colorado delegation to dedicate the new wilderness area at Rocky Mountain National Park.
I remain dedicated to preserving more of Colorado’s iconic and wild public lands with this same community-driven approach. For example, I have engaged in a multi-year effort to draft legislation establishing wilderness in southwest Colorado's San Juan Mountains. The San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act was developed through three years of work with stakeholders to expand wilderness in classic Colorado landscapes, such as Mount Sneffels and Lizard Head, while maintaining fair access for all land users. This was not a simple or quick process, but this locally-driven approach is a model for how new wilderness protections should be proposed. I intend to use this model as I continue working to protect the landscapes and open spaces that make Colorado the most beautiful state in the nation.
Throughout 2012 and 2013, I led a collaborative, community-based effort that looked at how to bring wilderness and national monument designations to two of Colorado’s most beautiful areas — the Central Mountains (Summit, Eagle and Pitkin counties) and Browns Canyon on the Arkansas River (Chafee County). I held numerous public meetings, worked with various stakeholders and received thousands of public comments on how to best ensure that public lands like these continue to be one of Colorado's greatest economic engines.
Then, In December 2013, I was proud to introduce The Browns Canyon National Monument and Wilderness Act, which is a community-driven effort to preserve 22,000 acres of forest and canyons between Salida and Buena Vista — an area that includes the most popular whitewater rafting destination in the country. My grassroots bill will help create jobs, strengthen Chaffee County's economy and preserve this special place for decades to come.
I have also supported small common-sense land exchanges that help Colorado’s mountain communities. For example, I oversaw passage of a 2011 bill to help protect the community of Sugarloaf from wildfire. The bill ensures that the Boulder County fire district actually owns the land under two of its three fire stations by allowing a small land exchange with the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest. This enables the fire district to maintain and upgrade its fire stations to better serve the Sugarloaf community and nearby properties at risk of wildfire. In Summit County, I am working to pass the Lake Hill Administrative Site Affordable Housing Act to convey 40 acres of federal administrative land so that the county can build more affordable workforce housing to support local businesses.
I am also proud to have successfully supported the creation of the Chimney Rock National Monument in 2012, which recognizes a unique Chacoan archeological site located between Durango and Pagosa Springs. This monument proposal enjoyed broad bipartisan support from organizations across the region, including the Archuleta County Commission and the Pagosa Springs Chamber of Commerce.
Water is our most valuable natural resource in Colorado and across the West. That’s why water management and data collection programs like the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s WaterSMART program and the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Water Census are essential to protecting our special way of life in Colorado. But without congressional action, water conservation and monitoring programs like these will be severely limited. I’m pushing to extend key elements of these important programs and help states like Colorado continue to partner with federal agencies to improve our understanding of water use and availability. This common-sense proposal will conserve water, save energy and cut costs while maintaining our quality of life.
Colorado's way of life depends on access to our public lands. From casual outdoorsmen to avid hunters and anglers to conservationists, everyone can benefit from the five million acres of open spaces the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has helped protect since its creation in 1964. Despite the great work the Land and Water Conservation Fund has done — including protecting Colorado's Great Sand Dunes National Park — it has been historically underfunded. That's why I'm leading the effort to urge the administration to fully support the Land and Water Conservation Fund and strengthen public access for hunting, fishing and other recreational activities that support our thriving outdoor economy and our western way of life.
As part of my longstanding push to ensure that Colorado and the West have ample resources to prevent and combat wildfire, I'm always looking for ways to partner with other states and local organizations to reduce wildfire risk. That's why I'm a strong supporter of the Southwest Ecological Restoration Institutes, a bipartisan set of initiatives that work to confront forest health issues head-on. To ensure that these job-creating and innovative programs can continue to strengthen our forests and mitigate wildfire risk, I once again joined my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to urge the administration to support these programs in this year's budget. Collaborations like these are a win for both the safety and economic development of Colorado communities.
The cost of fighting modern mega-fires has increased fivefold in recent years, devastating many Colorado communities and costing taxpayers millions of dollars for emergency response. Since the federal government doesn't treat catastrophic wildfires — like the Waldo Canyon, High Park and Black Forest fires — the same as most other natural disasters, we're forced to drain funding for fire prevention measures to support immediate fire response. This limits our ability to proactively work to prevent small blazes from becoming mega-fires, which would save taxpayer dollars and protect vulnerable communities and infrastructure. My bipartisan plan would prevent the federal government from depleting its resources that should be dedicated to forest health and fire-mitigation efforts. It does this by giving the U.S. Department of Interior and the U.S. Forest Service the ability to access emergency funding to support the response to mega-fires the same as for other natural disasters. This common sense proposal will free up support for fire mitigation and forest health, saving taxpayer dollars and — more importantly — our communities.
Sequestration is hurting Coloradans in every corner of our state. Currently, an interpretation of the Mineral Leasing Act under sequestration is threatening $110 million in mineral royalties owed to states, including Colorado. Our state relies on these revenues from oil, gas and mineral production on our public lands to fund local governments, schools and other services. While I believe we must replace the sequester with a balanced deficit reduction plan, it must also be implemented according to the law. That's why I joined with a bipartisan group of western colleagues to support the State Mineral Revenue Protection Act, which ensures that Colorado communities will receive the mineral royalties they are due under the law.