Joey BunchJoey BunchFebruary 6, 20185min625

Anglers and environmentalists say President Trump’s plan to reshape the federal lease approval process for oil and gas is a means to muzzle their concerns.

The plan will “hand over public lands to the oil and gas industries,” according to the Wilderness Society.

The Interior Department released a memo Thursday instructing its field offices “to simplify and streamline the leasing process” for oil and gas leases with the Bureau of Land Management.

BLM will have 60 days to process a proposed lease, and the BLM offices “may” allow public participation, but it’s no longer mandatory. The window for public opposition to finalized leases is 10 days, and unresolved opposition can’t hold up a sale, according to the memo.

Trout Unlimited released a statement with a Denver dateline that accused the president and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke of “rolling back efforts to protect sensitive fish and wildlife habitat and involve local communities, sportsmen’s groups and other in federal lands planning.”

Scott Braden, the wilderness and public lands advocate for Conservation Colorado, fired off a “rapid response” email to the 36,000-plus supporters of the state’s largest environmental organization:

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will stop at nothing to bring oil and gas drilling to every corner of our public lands. This week, he has proposed to erase commonsense policies that protect our public lands from drilling, including in special places like wildlands and lands adjacent to our national parks. His proposal also cuts opportunities for public comment effectively silencing the voices of hundreds of thousands of stakeholders and individuals who value our public lands.

The fallout from this attack on our lands could be catastrophic. Zinke’s preferential treatment to his pals in the oil and gas industry will fast track the approval of permits to drill on millions of acres of public lands across the West.

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, a Republican running for governor, last year sided with the BLM over environmentalists in lease issues.

“This is a step backward in efforts to balance energy develop with sporting opportunity,” Steve Kandell, director of Trout Unlimited’s Sportsmen’s Conservation Project, said in a statement.

“The scrapping of master leasing plans dramatically reduces the opportunities for public involvement and shuts out the voices of local stakeholders, including sportsmen and women, in the management of their favorite places to fish and hunt.”

The move was not a complete surprise. Trump promised to roll back suck regulations, and in his State of the Union Tuesday night he reiterated what Zinke said on stage at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver last summer: The war on American energy is over.

BLM is key to the administration’s America First Energy Plan.

“Oil and gas lease sales on public land directly support domestic energy production and the President’s energy dominance and job growth priorities for America,” Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt said in a statement about increased domestic production last week. “2017 was a big year for oil and gas leasing on federal lands, and these sales provide critical revenue and job growth in rural America. We will continue to work into the next year to identify and modify unnecessary regulations that impede responsible energy development.”

Added Brian Steed, BLM’s deputy director for policy and programs: “These results are hard proof that our sound energy policy is working for both public lands and Americans in terms of reliable power and job growth opportunities. Going into the new year, we remain committed to an era of American energy dominance through our multiple-use mission that ensures opportunities for commercial, recreational, and conservation activities on healthy and productive public lands.”


Joey BunchJoey BunchNovember 9, 20177min512

Teddy Roosevelt, the Republican father of our national parks, said it in 1906.

“The lack of power to take joy in outdoor nature is as real a misfortune as the lack of power to take joy in books,” the old Rough Rider said.

That’s why you find Teddy Roosevelt, and not Franklin Delano Roosevelt, creator of the New Deal, on Mount Rushmore, alongside Lincoln, Washington and Jefferson.

We don’t view our national parks as handouts to be cut on the whims of Washington gamesmanship. We view them as treasures.

And now the Trump administration plans to make sure we pay a king’s ransom to use them. And it feels like just that, ransom.

The National Parks Service is ready to hike the cost — dramatically — for everyday people to visit what they already own during peak tourism seasons at 17 of the country’s most popular parks, including Rocky Mountain National Park.

It would soon cost $70 a car to take my out-of-state friends from Estes Park to Grand Lake, instead of the 20 bucks I’m used to paying. Motorcycle riders will pay $50 and bicyclists and hikers will pay $30 to get in.

The other parks are Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands and Zion in Utah; Yellowstone and Grand Teton in Wyoming; the Grand Canyon in Arizona; Denali in Alaska; Glacier in Montana; Acadia in Maine; Olympic and Mount Rainier in Washington; Shenandoah in Virginia; and Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Joshua Tree in California.

The park service needs the money for a $12 billion backlog in repairs and improvements, because Congress and presidents won’t do their jobs and make sure parks are available and affordable to anyone who can get there, the idea Roosevelt had in his head and heart.

Poorly funding parks and public lands, however, has manufactured a shameful crisis. The sticker shock of a 250 percent increase in admission is the latest ploy to open up the lands to more drilling, foresting, hunting and off-roading for pay.

“We need to have the vision to look at the future of our parks and take action in order to ensure that our grandkids’ grandkids will have the same if not better experience than we have today,” U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said when he announced the price hike last week.​

That sounds similar, but not quite as complete as what he said at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver in July.

“Our great lands, our treasures, belong to us,” Zinke said.

But that was only part of his message in Colorado.

“I can tell ya, the war on American energy is over,” the former Montana congressman said.

But what Zinke didn’t say is that the administration will have a fight on its hands to bring more development to public lands, sacrificing a mantle conservationists can rally around — and win.

Scott Braden, public lands advocate for the Conservation Colorado, said “undoubtedly” the parks need more revenue and the maintenance backlog is real.

“Any economist would tell you that if you have too much demand, you should probably increase the price of the supply,” Braden told me.

“However, my concerns are twofold. One, is that the Trump budget and indeed appropriations over the last however many years of sequestration have further strained the ability of the NPS to carry out its mission. Shifting that cost burden to just the users of the parks is misguided, because national parks should be a national funding priority. Second, by increasing the costs of visiting parks, we make it harder to get kids outdoors, especially kids from poorer families and undeserved communities. This hurts our chances to educate and build the next generation of Americans who will care about parks and public lands.”

Zinke said the year before President Obama took office, the department made about $18 billion a year from offshore drilling, but the figure had fallen to just $2.6 billion last year.

He said the decline was an example of the “consequence of locking and shutting American energy, access and recreation off of our lands.”

Industry pays or you pay, get the picture?

Communities at the gates, such as Estes Park and Grand Lake, will certainly get it if tourism pays a price.

In 2015, more than 305 million people visited national parks, which was an all-time record. Visitors spent $16.9 billion in nearby communities.

Somebody always pays.

Politicians in both parties have no problem picking winners and losers, as long as their side wins.

The night before he visited Rocky Mountain National Park, Zinke said it disturbed him that people don’t trust the government anymore — “how far we’ve come from the government I grew up in; the government of Reagan, when the president would say something you knew it was true when our government was on our side.”

The public comment period on the fee hikes is open until Nov. 23. You can comment online at the National Park Service’s planning website or by mailing a letter to 1849 C Street, NW, Mail Stop 2346, Washington, D.C. 20240.


Joey BunchJoey BunchAugust 24, 20176min328

The long-awaited review of national monuments designated by other presidents over the last two decades landed, sort of, Thursday. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said he has sent President Trump a plan that would preserve all 27 monuments as federal assets, including Colorado’s Canyons of the Ancients, but some could shrink.

The Interior Department didn’t release the plan and hasn’t gone into specifics about where boundaries in which monuments could retreat.

“No President should use the authority under the Antiquities Act to restrict public access, prevent hunting and fishing, burden private land, or eliminate traditional land uses, unless such action is needed to protect the object,” Zinke said in a statement Thursday. “The recommendations I sent to the president on national monuments will maintain federal ownership of all federal land and protect the land under federal environmental regulations, and also provide a much needed change for the local communities who border and rely on these lands for hunting and fishing, economic development, traditional uses, and recreation.”

Environmental groups are expected to fight the plan in court, The Washington Post reported Thursday afternoon.

Zinke has given Colorado leaders assurances about Canyons of the Ancients, the lone entry from the state on the monuments hit list.

“​​Canyons of the Ancients​ ​is​ gorgeous land, but its monument status as the most high-density Native American archaeological sites in the Nation​ is clear,” Zinke said in a statement last month. “The history at this site spans thousands of years, and the federal protection of these objects and history ​will help us preserve this site for a thousand more years.”

The lack of details Thursday made it difficult for would-be opponents to react. Though relieved that none of the monuments will be entirely delisted, the details about where the reductions would come could change opinions dramatically.

Conservation Colorado, the state’s largest environmental organization, noted the “zero specifics” in the announcement.

“President Trump and Secretary Zinke have done the unthinkable and attacked our national parks and monuments despite tremendous public support for them,” Scott Braden, wilderness and public lands advocate at Conservation Colorado. “The fact that Colorado’s national monuments were spared from tampering is a Pyrrhic victory; it is a sad day for every Coloradan who values and cherishes our nation’s proud legacy of protecting national parks and public lands.

“Keeping the public in the dark on the actual recommendations speaks volumes about the poor quality and lack of transparency that has characterized the entire process. We will continue to fight for parks and public lands in Colorado, which we fully expect to continue to be targets of this reckless administration.”

Conservation Colorado said there were more than 2.7 million public comments in favor of protecting our nation’s monuments were submitted during the review, and the monuments were defended by the editorial boards of newspapers across Colorado.

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat from Denver, said keeping the plan secret is “further proof that this ill-conceived and unnecessary review process is not in the best interest of local communities and tribes.”

He continued, “Despite claims of transparency, it is troubling that Secretary Zinke would leave the American public in the dark, while the president decides the fate of our public land and water.​”

Monuments are preserved from drilling and most other development because of their rich national treasurers, but they have become lightning rods for politics, as well. Republican leaders in Utah forced the political issue with President Trump after President Obama designated millions of acres in southeast Utah as the Bears Ears National Monument in December.

The public lands fight in Utah has been layered but aggressive since the Sagebrush Rebellion days decades ago, as locals seek more access to public lands for grazing, energy development and other boosts to state and local economies.

Monuments were created by the Antiquities Act of 1906 under President Theodore Roosevelt to allow presidents to set aside landmarks, buildings and other “objects of historic or scientific interest” on federal government. Roosevelt immediately established 18 monuments, including the Grand Canyon.

Most are protected by the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the U.S. Forest Service. Opponents see federal oversight as insufficient to maintain the properties, or over-restrictive in allow public access.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to include comments from Conservation Colorado and Sen. Michael Bennet.


Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJuly 21, 20177min277
Scott Braden

The recent announcement that the massive Outdoor Retailer trade show is moving to Denver from Salt Lake City after 25 years in Utah was a coup that sent shockwaves through the recreation, political and conservation spheres. The show will pump millions of dollars into Colorado’s economy, but more importantly, it establishes the Centennial State as the home base of America’s fast-growing outdoor-recreation industry.

It also establishes Colorado as the national leader of progressive public lands policies, and provides important lessons to politicians who seek to represent Westerners in our national, state or local governments. These lessons are especially important for President Trump’s Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who is in Colorado this week speaking at two events and visiting Rocky Mountain National Park.

Here’s the backstory: Outdoor recreation leaders decided to move their biannual show away from Utah after so many years because of a widening gap between Utah politicians and the values of the outdoor industry. As one industry representative put it, these values include a long-term commitment to “nurturing and protecting public lands,” since they are the places we actually go to recreate.

Over the last several years, Utah’s leaders have ramped up a war with the federal government over public lands. They demanded that the federal government turn national public lands over to the state; passed a resolution calling on the Trump administration to overturn the wildly popular Bears Ears National Monument, and spent millions of taxpayer dollars funding quixotic lawsuits to seize public lands from public hands.

Meanwhile, Colorado has forged a very different approach to the tens of millions of acres of public lands within our borders. First, in 1992, Colorado citizens passed a ballot initiative to send some lottery revenues to fund outdoors programs in the state, and what is now known as the Great Outdoors Colorado program has become a model for conservation funding across the nation.

Additionally, the politics of public lands seizure never really took hold here, and all eight attempts to pass legislation at the state level have failed. Instead, last year our General Assembly created Colorado Public Lands Day, a holiday to recognize the myriad benefits these places bring to our state.

Coloradans and our leaders also have a long history of collaborating with public lands managers on practical solutions to thorny challenges, as evidenced by how all stakeholders were brought together to build the greater sage grouse conservation plans. And, of course, we’ve achieved a considerable level of conservation for our public lands, including over 3.5 million acres of wilderness, four national parks and seven national monuments, and dozens more national forests, conservation areas, and other incredible places.

The fact of the matter is this: Because Colorado has been friendly to public lands, the outdoor recreation industry knew it was welcome in our state.

I hope that politicians in Utah have learned a lesson about the political and economic power of public lands and outdoor recreation, and that candidates across the West recognize that support for protected public lands is a path to political victory.

I also hope that Secretary Zinke has been reading the news coverage about these topics and thinking about how deeply damaging his anti-public lands actions and agenda could be for his political future and his ability to get things done in Washington.

Unfortunately Secretary Zinke and his ilk in the Trump administration are heading in a similar direction as Utah politicians. They are focusing on rolling back environmental enforcement, attempting to reduce or rescind national monuments including Colorado’s Canyons of the Ancients, and proposing to slash funding to park rangers and managers.

Despite the popularity of national parks and monuments with voters, this administration is pandering to a small number of anti-public lands politicians and lobbyists. But already, outrage and resistance have broken out, as evidenced by the 2.7 million comments on Zinke’s “review” of national monuments, nearly all of which were in support of keeping them protected.

Trump and Zinke’s radical agenda for our public lands is going to backfire, just as Utah politicians’ support of extremist ideas backfired and resulted in the state losing a tremendous economic driver when it lost the Outdoor Retailer Show.

Colorado’s collaborative, positive, and conservation-centric approach to public lands is the antidote to the anti-public lands and anti-conservation policies we see in some other states and from the Trump administration. It’s time that politicians learned some hard lessons and work on behalf of Westerners, who choose to live, work, and play in the West because of our amazing public lands and outdoor recreation opportunities.


Joey BunchJoey BunchJune 16, 20176min442
Bears Ears National Monument
This May 8 photo shows an aerial view of Arch Canyon within Bears Ears National Monument revealing the vast landscape protected by President Obama on Dec. 28. (Photo by Francisco Kjolseth /The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)

Colorado’s Sen. Michael Bennet wants to know if  the U.S. Forest Service is asleep at the switch as the Trump administration aims to trim Bears Ears National Monument.

Bennet and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat from Michigan, sent a letter Thursday to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who oversees the Forest Service, asking pointed questions about how much of a fight the agency put up to defend its part of the southeast monument.

You can read the letter here.

The 1.35-million acre monument was designated by President Obama in December. In April President Trump asked for a review 27 national monuments of more than 100,000 acres each that were designated by previous presidents since Jan. 1, 1996. The review includes a pending decision on the Canyons of the Ancients near Cortez.

Map locates Bears Ears National Monument in Utah; 1c x 3 inches; 46.5 mm x 76 mm;

“Coloradans respect and value our public lands, because we understand that our public lands system is unique among all the countries in the world,” Bennet and fellow Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner said in a letter to Zinke last month. “Canyons is a significant piece of that uniqueness given the history that is preserved there.

Gov. John Hickenlooper got a personal assurance from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke that the Canyons of the Ancients would be spared.

Monday Zinke said the size of Bears Ears, however, could be reduced, but he didn’t say by how much or where. Conservationists had worried about the elimination of the monument, which includes sacred American Indian historical sites.

“The area around Bears Ears has the highest density of archaeological sites. I don’t think there’s any dispute about that,” Zinke said, according to USA Today. “But if you look at the Bears Ears as a whole, there is a lot more drop-dead gorgeous land than there is historic landmarks and historic structures.”

The conservation-versus-commerce fight in Utah has been a national flashpoint in the public lands debate for years, but with a supportive Trump administration, the scales are tipped toward drilling and development.

Bennet points out in his letter than Bears Ears includes almost 300,000 acres of forested highlands in the Manti La-Sal National Forest.

He specifically presses the question of legal authority.

‘While the Antiquities Act authorizes the president to designate national monuments, there does not appear to be any authority within the act to reduce the size of the monuments,” Bennet’s letter states, signaling a fight he’s eager to have with the Trump administration.

Bennet is the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee on Conservation, Forestry and Natural Resources. Stabenow holds the same position in the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

Scott Braden, the wilderness and public lands advocate for Conservation Colorado, the state’s largest environmental organization, called Zinke’s proposal a “slap in the face to all of us who care about and cherish our country’s national parks and monuments.”

He said Zinke is shortchanging cultural sites and public opinion to “attempt to appease Utah’s hard-right congressional delegation, a few county commissioners and Trump’s base.”

Braden said it is all too familiar a pattern for the federal government to go back on its word to native people.

“Coloradans should rid themselves of any harbored hopes that the President Trump or his loyal subordinates like Secretary Zinke will somehow be moderate on public lands issues,’ he said. “Their assault on public lands is real, and none of Colorado’s public lands are safe from it. Indeed, in Colorado, Trump has already attacked our Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, initiated a review of the collaborative greater sage grouse plan, and attempted to fast track a coal mine expansion into a roadless area. Colorado’s elected leaders must stand up to this malevolent administration.”

Joey BunchJoey BunchApril 28, 20175min330

Whether the Canyons of the Ancients is in the crosshairs to lose federal protections depends on who you believe, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s Facebook page or the Trump administration.

Environmentalists are concerned about the possibility the 176,000-acre national monument in southwest Colorado is on a public lands hit list the Trump administration is working on.

Wednesday, Trump signed an executive order telling Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review all monuments of more than 100,000 acres that were designated since 1996.

The only one of eight national monuments in Colorado that fits that description in Colorado the Canyons of the Ancients set aside from drilling, mining and development by President Clinton in 2000.

Thursday night on his Facebook page, Hickenlooper said he and the governors of Nevada and Wyoming met with Zinke Wednesday. and Hickenlooper reassured his followers the Canyons of the Ancients was off Trump’s table. The Denver Post  reported on the Facebook post Friday morning.

“As a result of our long conversation, I have been reassured that it is unlikely any of Colorado’s monuments will be reviewed,” Hickenlooper wrote on his Facebook page. “Our meeting as a whole was very positive, and the Secretary committed to working with governors as equal partners.”

That partnership didn’t last to Friday, however. A spokeswoman for Zinke wouldn’t confirm Hickenlooper’s take-away from the meeting.

“No decision has been made yet,” the spokeswoman told the environmental site E&E News.

In a press briefing in Washington on Tuesday, the day before Trump signed the order, Zinke said it was Trump’s call.

“It’s undisputed the President has the authority to modify a monument,” Zinke said the day before he met with Hickenlooper and other governors in Washington, D.C. “It’s pretty premature to suggest we do the review in which I’m going to review and recommend to the president whether to rescind a monument completely or modify it. It is untested, as you know, whether the president can do that, but at this point, I haven’t gone through the list.”

Colorado Politics was not able to get a call back from the Department of Interior Friday to inquire further.

Hickenlooper’s spokeswoman said Friday afternoon the governor still feels relieved after meeting with Zinke,

“We recognize no decisions have been made, but the words expressed to the governor from Secretary Zinke did provide him reassurance to the concerns they discussed regarding Canyons of the Ancients National Monument,” said Hickenlooper’s spokeswoman, Jacque Montgomery.

Conservation Colorado, the state’s largest environmental, is closely watching the debate over national monuments and remains on guard for the Canyons of the Ancients.

“The track record of the Trump administration has been consistent flip-flopping, so we’re taking the threat both seriously and literally,” Scott Braden, Conservation Colorado’s public lands and wilderness advocate, said in a statement. “We stand ready and are preparing to defend our Colorado monuments and parks from any attack that may come down from Washington, D.C.”

Editor’s note: This story was corrected to say the review includes designations since 1996, not 2006.

Joey BunchJoey BunchApril 26, 20176min374
President Donald Trump’s executive order Wednesday to review national monuments wasn’t as broad as opponents feared, but it still could put Colorado’s Canyons of the Ancients at risk. Trump asked the Interior Department to review national monuments designated since 1996 that are more than 100,000 acres. President Clinton designated the original 164,000-acre-tract of the Canyons […]

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