Protect Colorado’s public lands to help combat climate change

An equitable and inclusive approach to 30×30 will protect natural wonders for all

October 14, 2021 4:45 am

A view of Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, in April 2007. (U.S. National Park Service/Public domain)

I’ll never forget the first time I hiked Longs Peak. I was 19 and had just finished working for the summer at the YMCA of the Rockies, right in the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park. For months it felt like all anyone ever talked about was when the weather would finally be warm enough to hike Longs Peak.

Finally, after a sunny week in August, my friends and I decided to give it a go. So we dragged ourselves out of bed at 3 a.m. and started for the trailhead. After 12 or so grueling hours, we finally reached the peak. And, yes, we did celebrate by listening to “Rocky Mountain High.” Cliché, I know. But the truth is that we had just climbed a cathedral mountain and we did see silver clouds below!

I’ve never felt so small standing at the top of that peak and staring down at the endless stretches of mountain ranges below us. There is no feeling quite like being completely humbled, inspired and freed by nature. Of course, you don’t need to summit a 14er just to connect with nature.

I am completely in love with the entirety of Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s like a second home to me. I know that many people feel the same about our public lands across the U.S. But climate change is threatening the ability of people to have these kinds of experiences. For weeks recently, much of Colorado had been choked with wildfire smoke and ozone pollution, which has landed Denver among the most polluted cities in the world. We need to take climate action now and we can start right here in Colorado.

More than a third of Colorado’s land is public, and these forests, canyons and mountains offer us an immediate opportunity to combat climate change. We can utilize public lands as part of the solution by eliminating fossil fuel subsidies and phase out oil and gas leasing, increasing responsible renewable energy production, protecting and expanding forests that trap carbon, and ensuring a just transition for fossil-fuel dependent communities as they work toward a more resilient economy.

The approach to 30x30 must be equitable and inclusive. For me, as a woman of color, nature is a sanctuary. It’s the only place where I don’t have to worry about how I identify or how I am perceived.

Currently only 10% of Colorado’s lands are protected, and approximately every 30 seconds we lose about a football field’s worth of natural areas in the United States. Protecting 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030 is key to combating the climate crisis, biodiversity loss and inequitable access to nature. As our climate changes, so do our natural landscapes.

Just last year, tens of thousands of acres of Rocky Mountain National Park burned in the East Troublesome and Cameron Peak fires, two of Colorado’s worst fires in recorded history. By taking action to achieve “30×30,” we can help stop the average global temperature from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius while also preserving wild habitats that are key to protecting species and supporting local economies through activities like hunting and fishing.

The approach to 30×30 must be equitable and inclusive. For me, as a woman of color, nature is a sanctuary. It’s the only place where I don’t have to worry about how I identify or how I am perceived. As a person of color, it can feel impossible to get away from those things. When I am in nature, all of that melts away. I hope that everyone can experience that type of freedom at some point.

Yet our reality today is that many communities experience a disproportionate lack of access to nature. Communities of color are three times more likely than white communities to live in nature-deprived places and are disproportionately exposed to the worst impacts of climate change. For example, “in Colorado, Hispanic and Latino communities have more energy development nearby than any other racial or ethnic group,” according to the Center for American Progress. It is crucial that in our efforts to protect 30×30 we ensure that healthy outdoor spaces are open and accessible to everyone.

Colorado’s landscape is special. It needs to be protected. If we don’t take climate action now, we’ll all suffer the consequences. We need to protect our public lands and achieve 30×30. We need to pass the CORE Act to protect 400,000 acres of public lands across Colorado as wilderness, wildlife conservation, and recreation areas. We need to work with local communities to encourage conservation action at both the state and federal level so we can achieve these goals and protect our natural wonders for all to enjoy.

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Chloe Leaverton
Chloe Leaverton

Chloe Leaverton is a student at the University of Iowa and recently completed the Colorado Youth Outreach internship with The Wilderness Society.