When I left the National Park Service for the Bureau of Land Management back in 1998, the Clinton Administration’s makeover of that agency was in full swing. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbit was establishing the National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS) with an eye toward making the BLM better stewards of the public lands they administered. The emphasis was to be on preserving those special landscapes while continuing to allow traditional and recreational uses. Extractive industries were not a part of the picture. Thus the creation of over a dozen new National Conservation Areas.
So I was thrilled when just two years later, Colorado Canyons National Conservation Area was created from spectacular public lands bordering the western edge of Colorado near Grand Junction. Even more thrilling was the fact that shortly thereafter I was assigned as the very first manager of this 123,000 acre landscape that included 22 miles of the Colorado River, seven slick rock canyons, and 75,000 acres of designated wilderness. I made the move to Grand Junction in 2001 to begin the planning process for the area.
The initial establishing budget for Colorado Canyons had been generous, allowing for the fact that much planning was needed and on-the-ground personnel were essential to managing such a large area. But when the administrations changed, so did the budget situation. Under the Bush Regime, we lost half of our budget almost immediately to BLMs oil and gas divisions. Soon thereafter the staff and budget of the NLCS were severely diminished. The once high profile of the agency suddenly became a low flood plain.
Since that time, the BLM has returned to its former model of promoting commercial exploitation of public lands over preservation.
And, as Equal Ground advocates have been pointing out, the balance that was tipped over during the Bush Era has not been realigned as many had hoped. Land conservation has not kept up with drilling by a ratio of over two-to-one. So the question remains….how to restore that balance? Can enough people become aware and engaged in this process so that Congress hears our voices? This will be a daunting challenge but perhaps not an impossible one due to the efforts like Equal Ground and Park Rangers for Our Lands.
Former BLM manager and national park ranger