They say birds of a feather flock together. That’s why we were so ruffled when Governor John Hickenlooper decided to join the Trump administration’s efforts to undermine the largest landscape-level conservation effort in U.S. history to prevent the demise of the iconic Western sage-grouse.
Hickenlooper recently put his name to a congratulatory quote in a Bureau of Land Management press release — calling the Trump administration’s plan, which opens over 224,000 additional acres of important grouse habitat in Colorado to oil and gas leasing, “more protective” than the current plan — as this hasty, lobbyist-driven process is unfolding right before our eyes.
We shouldn’t need to remind the Governor of what happened in Utah when their elected officials decided to turn their back on the outdoor industry — now larger than oil, gas and mining combined — and take public lands for granted. It was just a year ago when the multi-million-dollar Outdoor Retailer trade show decided to move to Denver.
Sage-grouse habitat drives over $1 billion in outdoor economic activity, which includes things like hunting, camping and hiking. As many know, sage-grouse habitat does not end at a state-line, and doing favors for special interests in one state will have an impact on all Western states with sage-grouse.
Changing direction and embracing less conservative management of public land in favor of liberal drilling policies that decrease habitat and outdoor recreational opportunities isn’t making any plan stronger, and when looked at in totality with other sweeping changes that the Department of Interior is proposing across the West, it could actually lead to a place that we’ve successfully avoided: A listed bird that severely impacts our Western economy and way of life.
Ultimately, what is so troubling about Hickenlooper’s apparent about-face on this critical wildlife management issue is not just the other 350-plus species in sagebrush country and a bird that are now at greater risk, it’s that if he’s willing to flip on this issue for special interests, what else is he willing to do for the Trump administration at the cost of Colorado and the West?
We hope that is not true, and the Governor will reconsider his new position and honor the deal as he did in 2015. But if he decides to keep backing President Trump’s haphazard approach to managing public lands, we would be glad to invite the outdoor industry to hold its lucrative trade show in Montana, where it will find a much more supportive climate than the one Hickenlooper and Trump seem to be teaming up to create in Colorado.
Jayson O’Neill is the Deputy Director of the Montana-based Western Values Project, a nonprofit that works to defend public lands and hold policymakers and special interests accountable.
This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.