In Speech, Udall Highlights That Public Lands Fuel Local Economies
About his San Juan bill: 'This is How Wilderness Should and Can be Done'
Today, Mark Udall gave a speech on the Senate floor to outline the importance of public lands in not only preserving our quality of life in Colorado, but also in shoring up rural economies and local jobs that cannot be shipped overseas. He outlined in particular his bill, the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act, to preserve more than 61,000 acres in southwestern Colorado as wilderness for multiple uses—like hiking, hunting, fishing and grazing—and touted the economic good the bill would do.
"Access to public lands and the opportunities they provide are a major reason many of us choose to live in the West. I know this is true in Colorado where public lands and outdoor recreation are in our blood," Udall said in the speech. "When we talk about natural resources, we aren't just talking about beautiful landscapes and future generations—there are incredibly important economic benefits to preserving and protecting these lands."
Udall pointed out that outdoor recreation and tourism are two of the bright spots in our economy, adding an estimated $730 billion to the U.S. economy every year and growing by more than 6 percent this year alone. That potential for fueling our economic recovery was part of the impetus behind Udall's bill to allow the Forest Service to permit appropriate shoulder-season recreation in ski areas, which passed the House last night by a vote of 394 to 0. Mountain communities would be able to offer more recreational opportunities that boost tourism and support year-round jobs.
As he mentioned in his speech, Udall reintroduced last week his San Juan legislation to conserve the beauty and multiple water, mining and recreation uses of the region, as well as strengthen the local economy's tourism and recreation industries. The bill has received widespread and vocal support from a varied base of stakeholders, including local leaders and citizen groups in the affected counties, that collaborated with Udall, Senator Michael Bennet and former Congressman John Salazar in crafting the original bill in 2009.
Now, I know many of my colleagues understand the value of public lands. But let me list a couple of the reasons I believe they are a vital thread in the fabric of our country.
First, we are a nation of explorers and risk takers constantly in search of the next challenge to overcome or the next mountain to climb. Public lands, especially in the West, are a reminder of this heritage.
Our public lands benefit communities across the country through clean air and clean water. In urban and rural areas, open spaces filter and clean our air and water, improving the environment for surrounding communities while lowering storm water management and water treatment costs.Access to public lands and the opportunities they provide are a major reason many of us choose to live in the West. I know this is true in Colorado where public lands and outdoor recreation are in our blood.
It’s one of the reasons Colorado is one of the most active and healthiest states in the country, and why I’ve been encouraging children and families across the nation to get outside and stay active – especially in our national parks.
But public lands are also in our wallets.
When discussing public lands, we cannot forget their importance to our economy. Our public lands have long been a source of economic value and multiple use is a key component of management of these lands.For example, extractive industries, such as oil and gas development and mining, will continue to be an important part of our economy in the West.
But these are certainly not the only economic use of these lands.Outdoor recreation – hunting, hiking, biking… the list goes on and on – are a major use of our lands. And outdoor recreationalists not only enjoy our land – they also support a large and growing industry of supply stores, manufacturers, guides, hotels, and other important businesses.
In fact, in this time of economic uncertainty, outdoor recreation and tourism are two of the bright spots in our economy. In 2006, the Outdoor Industry Foundation found that biking, hiking, hunting, and other active outdoor recreation activities add $730 billion to our economy every year.
And – perhaps even more important – this is an area of our economy that continues to grow. It has grown by more than 6 percent just in 2011 – and it has outpaced U.S. economic growth more generally.
We hear a lot about the problems that government causes. And there are certainly areas where we should reform: we can streamline government and make it more efficient, we can get government out of the way where appropriate and increase oversight where necessary.
But when I was traveling my home state of Colorado over the summer, I heard a lot about how government is working. I heard about partnerships between federal, state, and local governments, private businesses, and local stakeholders to preserve and protect our natural resources that are improving the lives of Coloradans.
They are creating jobs, making communities a better place to live and building future economic opportunities.
For example, in July I had the privilege to visit the town of Creede in the historic San Luis Valley of Colorado.
Among other stops, I met with the Willow Creek Reclamation Committee. The Committee is an assortment of residents – retired miners, artists, local business people, ranchers and vacation homesteaders – and federal and state officials who want to clean up pollution in their watershed.
The narrow valley above Creede is lined with abandoned mines. While the region boasts some of the best examples of mining structures you will find in the western United States, pollution from these abandoned mines hurts water quality.
The pollution was so bad that residents feared Creede would be placed on the National Priorities List for Superfund cleanup – a prospect that could hurt their tourism-based economy.
So the residents formed the Committee in 1999 to do something about it themselves.
Working with the Environmental Protection Agency, the Forest Service, Department of Agriculture, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state agencies and others, the Committee developed a plan to clean up their watershed.
Their clean-up plan is a truly comprehensive approach that recognizes the full value of the watershed to their community.
What struck me most when I spoke to the Committee was that no one talked about Democrats or Republicans. They weren’t trying to wage political or partisan battles.
They saw a problem affecting their livelihoods, banded together as a community, partnered with federal, state and local governments, and did something about it.
Now their streams are healthier. Their land is healthier. And their economy is healthier.
I intend to bring some of that Creede pragmatism here to Washington, D.C. Our public lands are an invaluable natural resources. I hope we can come together in the Congress with policies and solutions to wisely utilize and conserve them.
Let me give a few examples of what I’m talking about.
One incredibly successful government program that has been instrumental to the growth of outdoor recreation across the country is the Land and Water Conservation Fund, or LWCF. In fact, every dollar of LWCF funding creates an additional four dollars in economic value.
LWCF was developed on the belief that, as we develop and exploit our oil and gas resources, we should also set some land aside for hunting, fishing, and recreation for the enjoyment of future generations.
So we set up a mechanism whereby royalties from oil and gas leases were to fully fund LWCF projects. Instead, every year those dollars are taken out of LWCF for other unrelated government expenditures, leaving a huge unmet need in each state across the county. While royalties flow into the government coffers, LWCF has continually been raided and its authorized $900 million funding has only been fulfilled twice since 1964.
Not only are we robbing future generations of critical open spaces and outdoor recreation, we are under investing in assets – our public lands – that would drive job creation.
As Chairman of the National Parks Subcommittee, I’ve seen how these funds have been particularly useful to our Parks – after all, the there is no better example than the creation of Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in Colorado. This magnificent place was made possible by LWCF appropriations that were obtained with very strong local support. Great Sand Dunes protects one of our nation’s great landmarks and is also a source of tourist dollars for the surrounding rural communities.
That’s why I’ve joined several of my colleagues – including Sen. Bingaman, Sen. Burr, Sen. Baucus and others – to fight for full funding of LWCF.
The point that I want to emphasize to my colleagues is that when we talk about natural resources, we aren’t just talking about beautiful landscapes and future generations. There are incredibly important economic benefits to preserving and protecting these lands.
I also want to briefly discuss another key component of our public lands system: Wilderness.
Lands classified as Wilderness – with a big “W” – are critical to our multiple use management strategy. Some areas should be preserved as Wilderness, just as some areas are better suited to mining, oil and gas development or off road vehicle use.
Wilderness provides opportunities for backpacking, fishing, hiking, grazing, and hunting, as well as protecting these precious landscapes for future generations.
In that vein, last week I introduced the San Juan Mountain Wilderness Act. Sen. Bennet joined me in introducing this bill.
Similar to a bill I introduced in the last Congress, my bill would designate 33,000 acres in southwestern Colorado as wilderness. It would also designate about 22,000 acres as a special management area and withdraw over 6,000 from mineral entry lands within the Naturita Canyon.
The bill is the result of the extensive collaborative work and stakeholder groups.
I would like to particularly note the efforts of former Congressman John Salazar and his staff who worked with the affected Colorado county commissioners, interested citizens, and my staff in developing this legislation over the last four years. It is crafted to take into account the various ongoing uses of these lands, such as for water supplies and recreation, while also providing strong managerial protection for these sensitive lands.
This region of Colorado is blessed with stunning beauty.
Much of the land proposed for wilderness and other protections in this legislation are additions to existing wilderness, including the Mt. Sneffels Wilderness Area and the Lizard Head Wilderness.
The bill also establishes a new area called McKenna Peak. This peak presides over imposing sandstone cliffs which rise 2,000 feet above the plain. It also provides important winter wildlife habitat for large numbers of deer and elk, which draws many hunters every year. Over 30,000 recreation user days are recorded annually during hunting season in this game management unit.
The bill would also establish the Sheep Mountain Special Management Area. Since helicopter skiing currently exists in this area, the legislation designates this area in a way that protects its wilderness character, but still allows this use to continue.
This type of flexibility is key for sound wilderness protection proposals and is a shining example of how protection can be co-exist with responsible use.
This bill has been carefully crafted and narrowly tailored to apply deserving protections to these lands. This is how Wilderness should and can be done.
Between all of the benefits – clean air and water, recreation, and economic growth – one would think that Congress could find a way to work together and enact common-sense public lands legislation, like my San Juan Wilderness bill.
But I’m frustrated that this Congress hasn’t recognized that. Instead of what I saw happening on the ground in Creede, D.C. politics are getting in the way of moving our country forward.
A prime example of politics getting in the way is my bipartisan Ski Area Recreation Opportunity Enhancement Act. This is a strongly bipartisan bill – I have worked closely with Sen. Barrasso on it and we have 10 additional cosponsors from across the country. In the House, Rep. Bishop and Rep. DeGette have championed this bill.
Our bill would simply clarify that the Forest Service may permit year-round recreational activities where appropriate on ski areas on public lands.
It includes no new federal spending –the bill would actually increase the amount of money coming into the federal treasury because it would likely increase permit fees.
And the bill would boost year-round activity in ski resorts on public lands, providing more opportunities for outdoor recreation, creating jobs and aiding rural economies.
In fact, my bill is so bipartisan and strongly supported that it passed the House last night by a vote of 394 to 0. No House Members voted against this bill.
Yet, despite bipartisan and bicameral support for the bill, and the fact that it would create jobs, I have not been able to get this bill to a vote on the Senate floor.
I had a long career as a high-altitude mountain climber before coming to Congress. That experience prepared me for Congress in unexpected ways.
In 1992, I was on the south face of Denali. We were 10 days into what was supposed to be a 7-day climb. We were out of food. The only way to get down was to literally go up and over the top of the mountain.
But the lesson I learned in the 20 below temperatures and high winds is that when you’re faced with a challenge like that – when the only way home is working together to accomplish the impossible -- you find a way to make it happen.
In some ways, I feel like that is the choice Congress has to make today. We can either work together to find a way up and over the summit – passing legislation that will create jobs, fix our budget problems and start working on the problems that Americans face every day. Or we can keep fighting each other, starving the country of the leadership that Congress must provide.
The time has come for us to adopt the former.
I ask my colleagues to join me in passing my bipartisan and common-sense Ski Areas bill and to support full funding for LWCF. I also ask them to work with me to enact locally developed wilderness proposals, such as the San Juan Wilderness Act. As we tackle the problems of unemployment and how to grow the economy, let’s not forget the important role our public lands play.