Collaborative Conservation: Conservation on all levels
January 17, 2015
The drive to survive is one we share with all living things. Why do some groups thrive when nearby groups of the same species, under similar conditions struggle? From monkeys and birds to wolves and ants, the natural world is full of examples that show how collaboration can boost survival.
In last month's column I discussed the idea of states seizing America's public lands instead of collaborating in their management. I predicted that the New Year would bring new proposals for this idea at the Colorado State Legislature. Already a bill has been introduced in the State Senate.
Collaborative conservation is a process of bringing diverse people together to achieve sustainability within those communities and the natural communities upon which they depend. Colorado leads the way. Colorado State University is home to The Center for Collaborative Conservation where they learn from and assist communities to enact successful collaborative conservation efforts. Right here on the Western Slope we are proving that collaborative conservation has the power to move the United States Congress.
Last month Southwest Colorado communities celebrated when the U.S. Congress passed the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act. Due to the hard work and diligence of local stakeholders, along with the leadership of U.S. Congressman Scott Tipton, R-Colorado, and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, all Americans now have a brand new wilderness area and more than 108,000 acres of protected lands in the Hermosa Creek watershed to enjoy.
The effort to conserve Hermosa Creek started six years ago as business owners, local hunters, anglers, hikers, mountain bikers, ranchers and community leaders convened an inclusive process to protect an area with vital wildlife habitat and treasured recreation access. The process created strong consensus, mutual understanding and, eventually, agreement that Hermosa Creek deserved additional protection. When attempts were made to alter the proposal, locals like song-birds ganging-up on a raptor, flocked together in a coordinated effort to reverse the changes. They were successful and, today, folks in the southwest continue to celebrate as others now look to them for a model of collaborative conservation.
Another recent example of collaborative conservation on the Western Slope is the Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act. The Thompson Divide is 220,000 acres of Colorado backcountry situated in the heart of America's most visited National Forest, the White River. The Divide generates more than 20,000 big-game licenses and provides summer range for ranching operations to thrive. Surrounding communities depend heavily on agriculture and tourism. Independent economic analysis has shown that the Thompson Divide generates 300 jobs and $30 million each year in sustainable economic benefits.
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Developed by the community in response to actions that opened the area for development, the act proposes to protect this remarkable landscape from future oil and gas leasing.
In our neck of the woods, we have a legacy of collaborative conservation. One example is the Little Snake Resource Management Plan. In response to community requests to be involved, the Bureau of Land Management convened the Northwest Colorado Stewardship process. NWCOS was open to anyone who felt that they had a stake in how BLM land is managed in Northwest Colorado. While the NWCOS process was not able to achieve a community consensus on all issues, it was able to bring a wide array of varied interests and perspectives together to work on a common goal. The legacy of that effort can be seen as our community continues to proactively collaborate on Greater sage grouse management in an effort to avoid a listing under the Endangered Species Act. With the lessons learned in NWCOS and leadership from our state and local government, I think we will be successful.
In comparison to these Western Slope examples of collaborative conservation, the idea of states seizing public lands is not a Colorado idea, nor a collaborative one. If you agree, urge our political leaders to spend time and resources on collaborative conservation.
Sasha Nelson is a field organizer for Conservation Colorado in Craig.