With little chance of major public lands legislation passing the newly Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives, Colorado’s Democratic House members are calling on the Biden administration to step up its effort to conserve land through executive action.
In a letter sent this week to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Rep. Diana DeGette of Denver and California Rep. Jared Huffman urged more aggressive conservation efforts as a way to combat climate change and meet the administration’s “30×30” conservation goal, which aims to enact protections on 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030. DeGette serves as the top Democrat on the subcommittee on Energy, Climate, and Grid Security within the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
“Our remote lands are frequently overlooked in conversations about addressing the climate crisis, but their contributions will be crucial,” the lawmakers wrote. “Public lands not only support complex ecosystems, but also can sequester carbon and make areas more resilient to the impacts of climate change.”
Democratic Reps. Joe Neguse of Lafayette, Jason Crow of Centennial, Brittany Pettersen of Arvada and Yadira Caraveo of Thornton also signed the letter, which is endorsed by a long list of environmental groups from Colorado and around the country.
Though a Colorado College poll released this week found that the 30×30 target remains overwhelmingly popular with Western voters, only comparatively tiny additions to Colorado’s current 6.7 million protected acres have been made under the Biden administration. The designation of the 53,000-acre Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument last year, for example, increased the percentage of protected land in the state from approximately 10.15% to 10.22%.
In Congress, even modestly sized public lands packages, like DeGette’s Colorado Wilderness Act and the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Economy Act, have faced stiff opposition from Republicans. With funding and support from deep-pocketed industry groups, conservative activists have blasted the 30×30 plan as a “government land grab” and frequently spread misinformation and conspiracy theories about its aims. U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert of Silt has described the goal as a plot by “extremist enviros funded by George Soros that believe the federal government should control every aspect of our daily lives.”
But Democratic lawmakers urged Haaland to press on toward the goal and “shift the focus of the Bureau of Land Management,” an agency that manages more than 240 million acres across the West, toward conservation.
Under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, the agency has the authority to protect federally owned land as Wilderness Study Areas or Areas of Critical Environmental Concern. That could include new or strengthened protections for 17 of the areas identified in the Colorado Wilderness Act, which DeGette first introduced in Congress in 1999.
“The largest opportunity to protect our public lands lies with the BLM,” lawmakers wrote in their letter. “For years, DOI and the BLM have not utilized their ability to protect these lands, leaving critical habitats vulnerable to degradation of their unique resources. Without proper protections, these lands face many threats that could jeopardize wilderness-quality values the BLM stated these lands have.”