Former Summit County Commissioner confirmed as director of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources

Former Summit County Commissioner Dan Gibbs was confirmed by the state senate Monday to head Colorado's Department of Natural Resources.
Ben Trollinger /

Former Summit County Commissioner Dan Gibbs was confirmed Monday by the Colorado senate to be the state’s next executive director of the Department of Natural Resources. Gibbs will join Gov. Jared Polis’ cabinet in charge of one of the state’s most important departments, overseeing management of the state’s land, water, wildlife and minerals.

The senate confirmed Gibbs unanimously in a 34 to 0 vote, with one abstention. Gibbs had already been preparing for the role in the weeks since he resigned as Summit County Commissioner, meeting staff and attending meetings to get up to speed on the department’s work.

The state agencies Gibbs will oversee include the Division of Forestry; Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety; the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission; Colorado Parks and Wildlife; the Colorado Avalanche Information Center; the State Land Board; the Water Conservation Board and the state’s Division of Water Resources.

Gibbs said he was thrilled to be confirmed, and was already engaged in high-level work, including the seven-state Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency plans that is seeking to create an updated water distribution compact in the West.

“It’s really amazing being a part of that, and being part of those important conversations happening right now,” Gibbs said. “What we do will have legacy impact on how we manage the Colorado River moving forward. It involves everything from human services to road and bridge to environmental health, I’m learning about a lot of different positions.”

Along with conserving water, other precious natural resources Gibbs oversees includes Parks and Wildlife, which will be the largest department under Gibbs’ purview with 900 employees. One of his priorities with CPW is to find a more sustainable funding model for the agency aside from hunting and fishing license fees.

Gibbs also said that in light of more and more frequent human-wildlife encounters — including a recent incident with at trail runner who managed to kill a mountain lion attacking him — he is looking into ways to safeguard people and wildlife as well as to limit dangerous encounters between the two.

Gibbs’s role in conserving natural resources while maintaining the state’s strong economy also comes into play with the Oil and Gas Commission as well as with mining.

“It’s a balancing act,” Gibbs said. “One of the governor’s priorities is to look for ways for local governments can be engaged with oil and gas activity, as well as looking at ways we can access and protect public lands in a sustainable way.”

Gibbs, who had served as a Congressional staffer, state house representative and state senator before his eight years as commissioner, said that his experience working at the federal, state and local levels made him realize the unnecessary barriers that spring up between various levels of government. He plans to use his experience to negotiate among the different players and break down those barriers.

“I want to work to try to demolish those silos isolating them from each other,” Gibbs said. “I want to look at how we manage our land, water and minerals and do what’s best for Colorado as a whole, not just piecemeal management based on federal, state and local ownership. I want a more holistic approach on how we manage and steward on natural resources.”

Ultimately, Gibbs’ most important responsibility as steward of the state’s natural resources is to preserve them for later generations, so they can experience and enjoy the grandeur and freedom this wild country has to offer.

“I have two young kids, and every day I wake up thinking about how we can shape natural resources policy not just now, but for future generations,” Gibbs said. “With 80,000 people moving to the state every year, a lot of it depends on how we manage growth, and how to avoid loving our natural resources to death.”

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