Conservationists in Colorado are dreaming big.
In a time of political turmoil and legislative impotence, a consortium of Colorado conservation groups is floating an audacious plan to conserve 30% of the land in the state — roughly 20 million acres — by 2030. Since statehood, the state has protected only 6 million acres.
The state is losing open land more quickly than it is protecting it. Since 2001, about a half-million acres in Colorado has been lost to development. That is reflective of a worldwide trend that has some lawmakers and conservationists galvanized to make the U.S. a global leader in slowing the loss of wildlife and rainforests.
The Global Deal for Nature movement calls for Earth’s residents to protect half the planet’s land, waters and oceans by 2050. Colorado U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and New Mexico U.S. Sen. Tom Udall have sponsored legislation — the “Thirty by Thirty Resolution to Save Nature” — to protect 30% of the country’s lands and waters by 2030. California Gov. Gavin Newsom last week made the 30-by-30 goal a formal state policy.
And now a coalition of conservation groups in Colorado has detailed a roadmap for how the state can reach the bold goal and protect more than 14 million acres of land in the next decade. The “Colorado Pathways to 30-by-30” proposal expands the definition of conservation, with state-level reforms to limit the impacts of energy development, executive orders, federal and state land manager policies and private landowner protection all included in the toolbox.
“Protecting 30% of Colorado’s lands by 2030 will require a variety of approaches and creative solutions,” reads the plan, which calls for a unified effort involving federal and state land managers, tribal leaders, local communities and private landowners.
The state of Colorado has 2.7 million acres of trust lands, given by the federal government at statehood and managed to generate revenue for public schools. State trust lands are not necessarily public; access is limited to only 500,000 acres or so, mostly managed by the State Land Board for hunting and fishing access. The “Colorado Pathways to 30-by-30” plan suggests the State Land Board could develop long-term “conservation and recreation leases” that produce revenue for schools while limiting the need for energy leases. The plan also suggests the federal government and State Land Board work together to identify possible land exchanges that could link scattered parcels that hinder access and conservation efforts.