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Browns Canyon is One Step Closer to Permanent Protection

08 Dec 2014  |   Mark Sheridan

Tags: Public Lands

Stretching along the Arkansas River in central Colorado, Browns Canyon’s 22,000 acres of picturesque landscapes and wildlife habitat have never enjoyed permanent protection.  The Canyon’s mid-level elevations, ranging from 7,000 to 10,000 feet, have become an outdoor recreation Mecca and also provide a home for native plants and animals including bighorn sheep, black bears, elk, mule deer, mountain lions, trout, golden eagles and peregrine falcons.  Though this land is managed mainly by the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, many believe that more protection is needed for Browns Canyon.

This region is one of the nation’s premier whitewater rafting areas and provides many other recreational opportunities including hiking, fishing, and hunting. Further protection for this area will only help grow the outdoor recreation industry, which is a major part of the region’s economy. Whitewater rafting alone contributes more than $50 million to the local economy. But the rafting business is just one contributor to Colorado’s booming outdoor recreation economy – one that supports over 100,000 jobs – and many outdoor industries would benefit with increased protection for this wild landscape.

Local stakeholders in Colorado have worked for over two decades to establish permanent protection for Browns Canyon, and the area has a strong history of bipartisan support from Colorado’s congressional delegation. Legislation to further protect Browns Canyon has been proposed for over a decade without success, and the most recent version of legislation remains unmoved in Congress. However, there is still hope for protecting Browns Canyon, and a recent move by Colorado’s two Senators, Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, could make permanent protection for this special place a reality.  

Supporters of a Browns Canyon National Monument, including the two Colorado Senators, are now urging President Obama to consider using his authority granted in the Antiquities Act to establish permanent protection for the area by designating it as a national monument.  President Obama has heard these calls, and continuing on his administration’s commitment to a publicly driven process for national monuments, administration officials attended a public meeting held in Salida, Colorado this past Saturday.  The purpose of the meeting was to hear from the local community about their visions for Browns Canyon. 

There was a strong turnout of over 500 community members at the meeting, and people were overwhelmingly in support of protecting Browns Canyon. In addition to the public meeting, a large coalition of elected officials, 200 local businesses, sportsmen groups, and environmental organizations support establishing permanent protection for Browns Canyon and a recent survey shows that nearly four out of five Coloradans support a national monument designation for Browns Canyon.   

Creating a Browns Canyon National Monument would add to President Obama’s strong and growing conservation legacy. He has already used his authority to protect over one million acres of public lands, including designating the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in New Mexico and the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument in California.

And, using his authority under the Antiquities Act places President Obama in good company.  Theodore Roosevelt was the first president to use the Antiquities Act to establish new national monuments. Including President Theodore Roosevelt, the law has been used by 16 presidents from both parties and has led to the protection of iconic national landmarks such as the Grand Canyon and the Statue of Liberty, among others. National Monuments can range from areas of historic significance to large landscapes, and since 1906, nearly 25% of monuments have been re-designated as National Parks. Presidential designations of national monuments allow existing activities to continue, but protects the area from future development. 

Protecting Browns Canyon by making it a national monument would enhance opportunities for outdoor recreation and would ensure that this special place is preserved for generations to come. If Congress is unwilling to move legislation that has broad support from local stakeholders, the President should continue to act.  Many years in the making, the time is right to permanently protect Browns Canyon.

(Photograph from Bureau of Land Management Flickr account) 

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