Conservation Colorado: Give a hoot for our public lands |

Conservation Colorado: Give a hoot for our public lands

Sasha Nelson/For the Saturday Morning Press
Sasha Nelson
Courtesy Photo

It’s summer, the time of year I find myself seeking out the cool shade of higher elevations by visiting Routt and White River National Forests. When I approach a forest boundary, the wooden yellow and brown signs make me nostalgic for quaking aspens, mountain wildflowers, afternoon thunderstorms, campfire s’mores, brown and green uniforms topped by funny old fashioned hats and, of course, the Forest Service’s iconic animal mascots.

The history of those mascots is rarely told but pretty fascinating. During World War II, there were not enough able-bodied men left in the U.S. to allow the Forest Service to effectively fight forests fires so the first mascots and their slogans were designed to encourage everyday people to assist in the care of our public lands. In 1944, Smokey Bear replaced the first mascot, Bambi the Deer, borrowed from Walt Disney, and so began a campaign now over 70 year olds. Then in the 1970s the U.S. Forest Service decided Smokey needed a pal. They created a new mascot: Woodsy the Owl. Woodsy’s motto was “Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute.”

Smokey’s and Woodsy’s messages, then and now, promote good public land stewardship. Stewardship is the belief that people are responsible for the world and should take care of it, an idea foundational to many religions. It is the founding principle of the environmental movement. Despite very conservative origins, the idea of being an environmentalist has become more controversial than the idea of being good stewards of the land. Most people value clean air, water, abundant wildlife and access to open spaces. The trouble arises in deciding how to conserve those precious resources.

There are three types of environmental stewards: doers, donors, and practitioners. Practitioners are people, like me, who are fortunate enough to have a career allowing us to work in many ways to manage our natural resources. Donors are those public and private entities and individuals, which contribute financially, and of course, doers get out there, pull on their boots, roll up their sleeves and get to work.

Driving past our forest boundaries, I notice that the yellow paint is fading, some of the wood is rotten, and many trails clogged with growth. During the past decade, the job market for Practitioners has contracted and the economy has made funds tight for donors. There are not enough resources for regular maintenance. If we want our public lands to be taken care of then we need to create opportunities for more doers to lend a hand.

The most rewarding part of my job with Conservation Colorado is creating partnerships to connect people with stewardship projects in our region. I’m excited to announce that we have three such opportunities coming up.

The first is our White River Workdays, scheduled for July 31 to Aug. 2 and sponsored by Conservation Colorado, Colorado Mountain Club and the White River Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management. It will see doers come together in Meeker to help build a half mile of connector trail. Once completed, this half-mile section will open up access to 11 miles of existing trails. We hope that free camping, free passes to the Meeker Recreation Center and the opportunity to have a hand in trail creation will encourage folks to volunteer.

On Aug. 14 to 16 the Duffy Mountain Work Days, sponsored by Conservation Colorado, Colorado Mountain Club and the Little Snake Field Office of the BLM will bring volunteers together to clear out a section of the Duffy Mountain hiking trail. Participants will enjoy a free campfire cookout Friday, a free spaghetti dinner Saturday as well as stargazing and lots of opportunities to hike, ride and float through this recreational hot-spot.

Later in the fall, Conserv-ation Colorado will partner with Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge to take a volunteer crew out for a day to plant cottonwood trees along the Green River. We’ve hosted this trip at least once per year for the past seven years and visitors to the refuge will have noticed the young trees fenced to protect them from browsing Elk. As the old growth forest continues to die, these new trees will fill in along the wetlands and provide shade, habitat and enjoyment to animals and people alike.

As good stewards of our lands it’s important that we work with professional land managers to fulfill our duty to leave the land better for future generations. These days, Smokey and Woodsy are still used to connect with children. Woodsy’s message has changed to “Lend a Hand — Care for the Land.” It’s a motto worth living no matter your age.

For more information about upcoming Conservation Col-orado stewardship events please visit or email me at

Sasha Nelson is the field organizer for Conservation Colorado’s Craig office.

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