Colorado Senate Democrats take a stand on the Great Sand Dunes

Author: Joey Bunch - April 9, 2018 - Updated: April 23, 2018

LWCFThe Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve has been set aside for public enjoyment since 1932. (Photo by Daniel Schwen, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Every Democrat in the Colorado Senate has signed a letter opposing the Trump administration’s proposal to sell off public land for energy development near Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.

But Gov. John Hickenlooper is not joining them in challenging the plan, noting that the parcels involved are on the opposite side of the towering Sangre de Cristo mountains from the famous dunes.

Colorado Politics told you two weeks ago that the Trump administration is aiming at  auctioning off mineral rights on about 18,000 acres of federal land. That would allow oil and gas developers to set up shop within several miles of the dunes, which are on the eastern edge of the San Luis Valley.
Senate Democrats addressed their letter to the state leader of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Gregory Shoop, instead of President Trump or Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

Zinke, after all, declared the war on America-made energy was over at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver last summer.

“Drilling near the dunes will be a disaster for local communities that rely on tourism driven by Southern Colorado’s natural beauty,” contends the letter from legislative Democrats.

Drilling operations would be in sight of portions of the park, the letter alleges. “Noise and fumes would foul the experience — not just for the visitors to the dunes but for thousands of others who come to the area for outdoor recreation in the surrounding valleys and mountains,” the Colorado senators assert.

(The park’s eastern boundary is the crest of the Sangre de Cristo range, with the parcels in question a few miles to the east.)

Public officials have a “moral responsibility to preserve our public lands for future generations,” the letter states then name-drops President Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican and devout conservationist who doubled the number of units in the national parks system during his presidency.

You can read the entire letter by clicking here.

In an op-ed in the Pueblo Chieftain newspaper on Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, said the dunes aren’t for sale.

“This federal push to auction off pristine public lands is a direct threat to our communities, our economy and our way of life,” he wrote. “Just as we do every time they come for our water, so too must Southern Colorado band together to resist this latest effort by out-of-towners to take our resources for their own benefit.”

The state’s largest environmental advocacy group, Conservation Colorado, also cried foul, arguing the proposed lease sale includes important wildlife habitat and recreation opportunities adjacent to the nearby Sangre de Cristo Wilderness and Huerfano State Wildlife Area.

“There is no place in the world like the Great Sand Dunes National Park,” the organization’s Front Range field organization, Josh Kuhn, wrote in an email blast to Conservation Colorado’s more than 35,000 members.

“Climbing to the tops of the sandy peaks and then running or sliding down the cascading hills is exhilarating. The unique landscape feels like it belongs on another planet while also serving as an important reminder about why protecting our own planet is so important.”

Hickenlooper reportedly planned to object to the selloff until he got a look at where the parcels are located.
Senate President Kevin Grantham has said that drilling in the area would be a good thing.

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.