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State leaders call for focus on wildlife

BOB BERWYN
summit daily news
Summit County, CO Colorado

KEYSTONE ” Without major changes in policy, deer, elk and other wild animals could soon be crowded out of Colorado by sprawling growth, energy development and climate change, according to a panel of experts meeting Monday in Keystone for a wildlife conservation summit.

“The number and severity of threats facing wildlife is unprecedented in our history,” said Colorado Division of Wildlife director Tom Remington, listing oil- and-gas development, population growth, coal-and- uranium mining as key issues, and singling out climate change as the “ultimate wild card” as a factor that cuts across all areas of conservation.

The unprecedented conference features top-level officials from state and federal agencies, as well as representatives from conservation groups and hunting and fishing interests.

The goal is to define the current status of wildlife and habitat in Colorado, to project the future under a “do-nothing” scenario, and to develop a 50-year vision that preserves natural-resource values.

“We need to reform our public land-management agencies, focus on environmental security and restore America’s lands,” said former U.S. Forest Service Chief Dr. Mike Dombeck. “We need to recommit to the concept of wilderness and build public support. Otherwise we will not get the funding we need … We are suffering from public apathy.”

After a round of opening speeches by top officials, participants will form working groups to devise specific policy recommendations for wildlife preservation.

University of Colorado Law School Dean David Getches called for a new era of public investment in conservation.

Invoking conservation icons like Teddy Roosevelt and Aldo Leopold, Getches said the current economic climate presents an opportunity for taking on big conservation challenges, including potential land acquisitions during a time when property values are relatively stagnant.

But he also cautioned that economic uncertainty could lead to changing values.

“Will conservation be seen as a luxury we can’t afford in this milieu? We have enormous challenges ahead. They’ve never been greater,” Getches said. “If we’re going to have robust wildlife and fish populations for our kids, it’s about taking actions in our lifetime.”

Gov. Bill Ritter framed the conservation debate through the lens of energy development.

Colorado is playing its part in moving the country toward energy security by issuing thousands of new permits for oil and gas wells, but it has to be done in a way that maintains the integrity of the state’s natural resources, he said.

“It is our desire to work with the federal government, the energy industry and the development community,” Ritter said.

But even though collaboration is the preferred approach, Ritter said his administration would be a vigilant and stubborn steward of natural resources.

Ritter addressed energy development squarely. He said his recent initiative to reshape the oil and gas commission is a critical step to ensure responsible energy development, and he called for the protection of wildlife-migration corridors.

Conservation goals don’t have to be at odds with other societal values, said Luther Probst, of the Sonoran Institute.

“We’ve got to learn to use our fiscal and economic arguments to advocate for wildlife,” Probst said.

For example, compact development, as compared with exurban sprawl, can help rural counties save money, requiring less in the way of infrastructure development and reducing operational costs, at the same time preserving wildlife habitat.

Former Colorado Division of Wildlife director John Mumma said federal land managers can, and should, be advocates for wildlife.

“You can be an advocate without being an adversary … Not everyone who sues you or appeals you is an enemy,” Mumma said, expressing disappointment that National Forest supervisors weren’t better represented at the conference.

Mumma said that, as federal land-management budgets dwindle, wildlife is getting pushed farther down the agenda.

“I see a gradual reduction in the effectiveness and influence of our federal agencies. It’s almost like they’re being strangled by design,” Mumma said.

The conference continues today and Wednesday with work group sessions. For more information on the summit, go to http://www.conservationsummit.org.

Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at bberwyn@summidaily.com.


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