Jim Gale, a founding member of Park Rangers for Our Lands, was on a recent float trip through Dinosaur National Monument with Colorado Senator Michael Bennet. The discussions centered on the issue of oil and gas leasing near the boundaries of national park areas like Dinosaur National Monument. And despite the divergence of views, the river has a way of creating a place where a conversation can take place, and a place where the path forward can be seen.
The trip began as we all waded waist-deep into the water to drag the heavy boats off a sandbar. From there we worked together to scout upcoming rapids, load and unload our gear from the boats, and even spot the occasional bighorn sheep along the bank. With no meeting times, objectives or talking points – wearing bathing suits instead of business suits – we talked not as adversaries, but as companions.
As the trip wound on, people started discussing some polarizing issues – whether the Colorado Bureau of Land Management should embark upon master leasing plans for oil and gas drilling, and about the merits of maintaining instream flows for endangered fish versus other applied uses of that water, just to name a couple of topics.
No matter how divisive the topic, a consensus emerged that we’d avoid ideological standoffs, no matter how much we disagreed. It made for good discussions and might even make a good model for statehouses and the nation.
We were all on the river because of our connection to the Colorado landscape. Regardless of our land-use preferences, we know that we rely on that land now, and will need to do so for a long, long time, for food, for energy, for wildlife habitat, or simply to enjoy the solitude and beauty of an undeveloped place.