Today, I am especially proud to be a Coloradan as we are celebrating the first ever Colorado Public Lands Day. This is particularly significant in light of the attacks on public lands coming from Washington, D.C.
Colorado’s way of life and outdoor industry rely on access to public lands. That is why I continue to fight to protect the lands that belong to all Americans, and push back on any policies or legislation that undermines Colorado and America’s beautiful outdoors.
In the first three months of this year, the new Trump administration and Republican Congress have continuously attacked our most important natural places. On day one, the Republicans made a change to the Rules in the House of Representatives that makes it easier to sell public lands to states and oil and gas companies by declaring that public land has no value. This was followed with legislation that would have sold off over 3 million acres of public lands, but thankfully, because of public pressure, Republicans withdrew the legislation. Nevertheless, the legislative onslaught continues. A pending bill — the Local Enforcement for Local Lands Act,
H.R. 622 — would completely eliminate law enforcement officers from the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. Then, among the worst of the worst attacks, there was the federal hiring freeze, which was only recently lifted. It prevented our public land agencies, including our national parks, from hiring thousands of workers across the country that we need for the upcoming busy summer months. Finally, the Trump administration sent Congress a budget outline that decimated funding for our national parks and public lands as a whole.
In Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park is a crown jewel of the National Parks system. With ecosystems ranging from wetlands to snowy mountaintops, and ample outdoor recreation opportunities stretching from leaf peeping to mountain climbing, it is not surprising that it is the third most visited national park in the country. With 4.1 million people visiting the park in 2015, visitors spent $268 million in and around Rocky Mountain National Park. The park draws visitors to the neighboring towns of Estes Park and Grand Lake and is an economic driver for these communities. In 2016, the overall economic impact of visitors to the National Park system in Colorado topped $666 million dollars.
This massive economic impact will come to a screeching halt if we do not stop the attacks that roll back policies to protect our public lands. The budget cuts and uncertainty surrounding hiring freezes alone could be detrimental to Rocky Mountain National Park. Each year the park hires about 230 seasonal workers for the high tourism season to do everything from keeping the front gates open to ensuring safety on the trails to cleaning campgrounds and facilities. Limited funding will prevent the park from hiring individuals to fill these jobs. I know most of us Coloradans would prefer not to spend four hours in traffic on Highway 36 nor would any of us want to spend a night on the Alberta Falls Trail waiting for a ranger to rescue us were we to get hurt.
Budget cuts and attacks on public lands will affect neighboring towns like Estes Park and Grand Lake because they depend on revenue generated by public lands. Our robust outdoor industry relies on access to public lands. For these reasons and countless more, I will continue to fight to protect the lands that belong to all Americans, and push back against any policies or legislation that undermine our majestic wilderness. Today, we recognize the importance of public lands to Colorado’s economy and our way of life, and we also recommit to protecting our most treasured places. Happy Colorado Public Lands Day!