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Collaborations, initiatives working for health of public lands

Nearly three years ago, in October 2020, Gov. Jared Polis signed executive Order B 2020-008 creating the Colorado Outdoor Regional Partnerships Initiative.

The goals of the RPI are pretty straightforward:

1. Ensure that Colorado’s land, water and wildlife thrive while also providing equitable and safe access to quality outdoor recreation experiences.

2. Convene representatives from different outdoor interests, races, cultures, ages and sectors through Regional Partnerships to identify regional priorities and strategies.

3. Collaborate to develop a state-level vision and plan for conservation and recreation that will inform future investments to conserve Colorado’s landscapes, rivers, wildlife, sensitive habitats and recreational opportunities.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife has partnered with Great Outdoor Colorado to establish a statewide grant program to provide funding to establish regional collaborations and provide support for their ongoing success. Before the most recent grant cycle, more than $1.5 million had been awarded to 15 collaborations across primarily the western half of Colorado – with a couple of gaping holes, including one in our corner of the state.

In the latest grant cycle this spring, after consulting with our federal, state and local partners, along with other key stakeholders, San Juan Mountains Association submitted an application to launch a research and planning process for an RPI in Southwest Colorado. CPW notified SJMA in late June that we were awarded money to create the new Southwest Colorado Conservation & Outdoor Recreation Roundtable.

There is no shortage of collaborations and initiatives occurring in Southwest Colorado right now. There are two landscape-scale forest health initiatives underway through the Rocky Mountain Restoration Initiative and the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program, along with the Animas Headwater Ecological Action Division, a Recreation Strategy in the San Juan National Forest’s Columbine District and other efforts to care for the water, wildlife and public lands that have drawn so many people to call this place home.

For more than 35 years, SJMA has played an integral role providing education and outreach and encouraging responsible recreation across public lands throughout Southwest Colorado, and now through SCCORR, we seek to bring a very diverse group of stakeholders together to share information, address concerns and prioritize a sustainable vision for conservation and outdoor recreation in our region. We are starting out with a planning and research grant, and as such, SCCORR’s initial steps include:

  • Convening a diverse suite of stakeholders to convey and share regional priorities, issues and ongoing conservation and recreation efforts.
  • Determining the appropriate scale and geography for the regional partnership’s focus.
  • Engaging a facilitator to develop a process for ensuring that the diverse conservation and recreation interests have ongoing input on efforts underway in this region and to the development of the Statewide Conservation and Recreation Plan.
  • Developing a complete inventory of the current initiatives and collaborations currently in process throughout Southwest Colorado, identifying overarching goals and strategies.
  • Mapping existing data on recreation use, wildlife habitats and other information that will ultimately provide critical input into the current array of initiatives and collaborations.

The ultimate goal is to work toward priority areas for long-term planning that both protects our wildlife and enhances this area’s recreation economy sustainably.

Equally important, having a CPW-supported regional partnership in Southwest Colorado provides us with a communication channel to those who are working on the Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan update for 2024-2028. As this process progresses, this regional partnership will ensure that the people and interest groups of Southwest Colorado have an opportunity to provide input on statewide level planning as well as on initiatives developing in the region.

We recognize that there is a chorus of different voices when it comes to conservation and outdoor recreation; and we firmly believe there is a need to collectively share our priorities and understand the very real constraints facing land-use management. Through SCCORR, we plan to provide Southwest Colorado communities with a chance to better understand current and future issues from both sides of the table, and to craft a balanced future trajectory to sustain the quality of life in this region.

I encourage you to engage and follow along as SCORR gets started. Contact me at sweber@sjma.org.

Stephanie Weber is executive director of San Juan Mountains Association.