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Climate justice, fear from ranchers among concerns cited in 30×30 efforts

Rep. Joe Neguse, as chair of national parks subcommittee, seeks to lead controversial conservation effort

John LaConte
Vail Daily
A cloud of dust rises off of a haybale as Troy Allen and his son Levi feed cattle on the Long Winter Livestock ranch just off of Routt County Road 44 on Tuesday morning. (Photo by John F. Russell)

Rep. Joe Neguse has started what promises to be a difficult process — hearing from Western Slope of Colorado on the controversial 30×30 plan.

Neguse represents Vail and parts of Eagle County in the U.S. House of Representatives. His district doesn’t reach far into the Western Slope — it encompasses all of agriculture-rich Grand County — but ends in Avon. However, as the chair of the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, he says he can be helpful in supporting the public land management goals of all Coloradans.

The 30×30 initiative is a Biden-and-Neguse-supported goal to preserve 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030. Efforts like the package of recent wilderness bills passed by the U.S. House of Representatives (including the CORE Act in Colorado), and the calls for the Bureau of Land Management to revoke grazing permits on the wild horse herd management areas in the West, have been touted for their alignment with the 30×30 plan.



“This, for us, is the beginning of the conversation,” Carissa Bunge, a senior legislative assistant in Neguse’s staff who works on environmental issues, said at an April listening session event hosted by hosted by The Wilderness Society.

Fear from ranchers

While Bunge said the Wilderness Society event was helpful as she prepares for the upcoming committee work associated with 30×30, there were no voices of dissent among the speakers. As attendees pointed out, 30×30 voices of dissent often come from cattlemen and the ranching community, as many cattlemen hold grazing permits allowing them to operate cattle ranches, which destroy native habitats, on national lands.



A Wilderness Society event is not likely to attract those ranchers as, before the event begins, it presents a counter to one of the cattlemen’s central arguments against 30×30. The Wilderness Society encourages all their speakers to begin by acknowledging the tribal lands on which that speaker is located — for ranchers intending to speak out against the effort, a talking point has been that a healthy environment is best left to “those who have been stewards of the land for generations,” in the words of Kaitlynn Glover with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

Glover, though, is not talking about indigenous tribes. She’s talking about ranchers.

“The nature of a farmer or rancher is to make a living for their families from the very land they farm or ranch; so the idea that our government would even think to come in and try to protect 30 percent of the United States’ land by the year 2030 is basically an insult to their stewardship,” reads an editorial, published on April 14, in the Frontier and Holt County Independent in Nebraska.

Neguse held his listening session on the same day that article was being published. An Archuleta County resident joined the call to ask how to receive information to share with ranchers about the 30×30 effort. The resident shared some of the fears she was hearing from a friend in the ranching community.

“She’s so upset about it, she couldn’t even bring herself to want to learn more about it,” the resident said. “She said ‘they want to take away 30% of our land.’”

Nick Allen with Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action said his group is trying to bring more ranching voices into the discussions surrounding 30×30.

“There is some general fear around it from the community but also there’s some amazing advocates in the community of ranching,” he said. “Don’t paint with too broad of a brush, when it comes to our ag(riculture) community. There’s a lot of people that will do some great work around conservation, care a lot about it, there’s some corporate players that don’t, but we really believe in those small and local ranchers that really want to care for their land and who really believe in conservation.”

‘Community-led conservation’

Throughout the listening session, Neguse heard many stories from individuals about their enjoyment of public lands.

Scott Willoughby of Eagle said the White River National Forest has a special place in his heart as a place where he enjoys skiing, fishing, hiking, biking and camping.

“The added protections offered in the embedded Holy Cross Wilderness are of even greater significance to me as the source of my drinking water and really the keeper of my sanity, in a lot of ways,” Willoughby said.

Clint McKnight of Durango said he remembers the first time he looked over the desert of southeastern Utah from the rim of Cedar Mesa.

“The words that came to mind as I stood there were space, stillness, silence, solitude and serenity,” he said.

Neguse and staff thanked the guests for sharing the stories, but Neguse did not mention the stories of individuals in his summary of the importance of the effort.

“The phrase, I think, that was so aptly put by one of the individuals who spoke tonight is ‘community led conservation,’” Neguse said.

Beatriz Soto, an immigrant from Mexico who is now an American citizen advocate for public lands and climate justice with the Wilderness Workshop in Carbondale, said the 30×30 work was important to her because many in her community share her story.

“The global deal for nature known as 30×30 is incredibly exciting for me personally,” Soto said. “Today I want to express that we must center all 30×30 conservation efforts on equity and environmental justice. Any effort to accelerate the pace of conservation in our country must respect tribal severity and traditional knowledge, and help our communities fulfill our vision and our priorities for land and water stewardship. Given historical inequities, nature deprivation for communities of color, and the theft of land belonging to indigenous communities, the priority of nature protection and restoration effort should be in communities of color, particularly urban areas and those historically marginalized or on the front lines of environmental justice.”


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