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The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those who have not viewed the world.

- Alexander von Humboldt


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News

Nov 08, 2018

The 2018 midterms: Colorado Voting Blue, Thinking Green

News From Boulder: Climate-conscious Jared Polis won the contest for governor, Democrats took control of the state Senate and then swept the highest state offices, but what does the “blue wave” mean for the environment?

WRITTEN BY

Kela Fetters

As of late Wednesday afternoon, Democrats secured a majority in the state Senate and increased their hold over the state House. Republicans were ousted from positions of attorney general, state treasurer, and secretary of state. Polis’s election warrants optimism for the environmentally-conscious; the governor-elect is unyielding in his commitment to bring Colorado to 100% renewable energy by 2040. Polis’s website notes that “leadership at the state and local levels to address climate change has never been more important, particularly in the absence of leadership at the national level”, a nod to the significance of the state’s $28 billion outdoor recreation economy with its workforce of 229,000 and the valuable open space and public lands they utilize.

Jared Polis. Official Photo for Congressman via Wikimedia Commons.

Democrat Joe Neguse handily defeated Republican Peter Yu to fill Polis’s former seat as Congressman for the 2nd Congressional District. He also promulgates progressive environmental policy, calling for investment in renewable energies, the elimination of government subsidies for fossil-fuel companies, and local sovereignty over oil and gas development.

State ballot initiative Proposition 112, which The Outdoor Journal reviewed in September, failed to pass. The “Safer Setbacks from Fracking” amendment would have required new oil and gas wells to be at least 2,500 feet from occupied buildings. Colorado Oil and Gas interests channeled almost $40 million into anti-112 campaigning, wildly outspending grassroots group Colorado Rising, who raised shy of $1 million to promote the initiative.

Conjointly, voters rejected Amendment 74, which would have mandated “just compensation” to property owners should government action reduce private property values. With strong backing by the oil and gas industry, Amendment 74 was fracking exponents’ solution to the possibility of Proposition 112’s approval; the setback mandate would have arguably reduced the value of private drilling land, entitling fracking companies to governmental reimbursement.

In Boulder, voters approved a slew of local initiatives that bode well for the environment. Issue 2C, an oil and gas tax, stormed through with a 77% majority. Though Boulder has gone decades without an application for a new well, drillers would face an extraction tax of up to $6.90 per barrel of oil or 88 cents per thousand cubic feet of natural gas. Ballot measure 2D passed, authorizing the city of Boulder to keep all money raised by the sugar-sweetened beverage tax implemented in 2016. Funds from the tax flow to community health equity programs such as Double Up Food Bucks, an initiative of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that provides low-income shoppers double the amount of healthy fruits and vegetables from a grocery store purchase. And in another win for the environment, Democrat Matt Jones claimed the Boulder County Board of County Commissioners District 3 race. Jones intends to fight fracking in Boulder County and substantiates Polis’s vision of 100% renewable energy.

As Polis remarked, the erosion of support for progressive environmental policy at the national level necessitates a strong cadre of environmental advocates at the local and sate levels. Buoyed by a formidable outdoor recreation industry and a state of avid outdoor recreators, Polis and the Democratic elects have the political efficacy to address environmental issues such as renewable energy, local energy justice, and land access.

Cover Photo: Governor-elect Jared Polis has pledged to transform Colorado’s energy sector to 100% renewables by 2040. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

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Mountain

Nov 12, 2018

Crag Caucus: Veterans and Politicians Rock Climb Together with American Alpine Club

The “Hill to Crag” event series connects veterans and legislators on rock climbing excursions to advocate for public lands. AAC Chairman and active-duty US Army Major Byron Harvison serves the beta.

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WRITTEN BY

Kela Fetters

Since its creation in 1902, climbing advocacy non-profit the American Alpine Club (AAC) has championed protection for the public lands that serve as unrivaled outdoor venues for climbers and other recreators. Their latest outreach program, the “Hill to Crag” initiative, offers lawmakers and their staff a chance to experience these public lands at iconic climbing spots across the nation. The excursions provision local elected officials with a fun day in a harness, a few sore muscles, and a heightened appreciation for public lands to parlay into protective legislature.

Golden, CO. Photo: Chad Vaughn

After the inaugural event in spring 2018, AAC’s Salt Lake Chapter Chair Byron Harvison saw the potential for veterans to contribute. Harvison, an Army Major and experienced climber, felt that veteran involvement could engender open dialogue. Conversations regarding public lands management can be polarizing; Harvison thinks politicians will respond positively to the testimonial of veterans. “Elected officials may be more inclined to hear what veterans have to say,” he says. Likewise, “discharged veterans oftentimes have a desire to continue to serve and this is a great opportunity.”

Golden, CO. Photo: Chad Vaughn

Harvison explains the Hill to Crag stratagem. “First, we talk about outdoor recreation as a way to deal with veteran-specific issues like PTSD, addiction, and depression following deployment,” he extolls. These dialogues are personal and poignant. Harvison focused on rock climbing after an intense deployment in Afghanistan, and he isn’t the only veteran to credit outdoor recreation with healing. “A lot of guys can say ‘Hey, getting outside saved my life’, and they are able to share those raw stories with these legislators,” he adds.

Harvison knows politicians are beholden to monetary interests and thus explicates the value of outdoor recreation on the local and national economy: “Nationally, outdoor recreation has surpassed the oil and gas industry in economic terms.” A recent government report estimates that outdoor recreation contributes $412 billion annually to the US GDP, and Harvison recognizes the potential for the industry to throw its weight around. “We are finding our voice and coming to realize how loud that voice can be,” he explains.

The crux of Harvison’s discourse is the indispensability of public lands protection. “All of these things—the mental health benefits and thriving outdoor economy—hinge on the availability of public lands to recreate on,” he summarizes.

Photo by Byron Harvison from the Golden, CO Hill to Crag event on October 12, 2018.

Chalk it up to smart strategy, productive dialogue, or a bit of crag magic, but the Hill to Crag events have already made an impact. The inaugural excursion in May of 2018 was testimony to the power of storytelling as pedagogy. Members of the AAC and climbing advocacy group the Access Fund brought Utah Congressman John Curtis to rock climbing mecca Joe’s Valley Boulders in Emery County, UT. Harvison explained to the lawmaker that “each climber contributes around $58 per night to the local economy of nearby Castle Dale.” Castle Dale, a tiny town of 3,500, hosts 19,000-25,000 climbers annually from around the world who are drawn to the area’s intricate sandstone boulders. Emery County faces the economic stagnation typical of a declining coal-mining community, but recreational tourism has considerable potential. “Climbing is a sustainable resource,” Harvison enthuses. “We were able to show Curtis the national and international appeal of our public lands.” In July of this year, Curtis proposed the Emery County Public Land Management Act, which would create a National Conservation Area out of the San Rafael Swell, designating over a half-million acres of the redrock desert parcel federally protected wilderness. The proposal juxtaposes nearly every piece of land-grab legislation to emerge from Utah in the past year and wagers on the economic potential of recreational tourism. Curtis’s proposition, on the heels of a Hill to Crag event, is radical in its embrace of public access instead of for-profit enterprise.

Photo by Dillon Parker from the Vedauwoo Recreation Area, WY Hill to Crag event on October 19, 2018.

Perhaps the AAC recognized the aptitude of rock climbing as a metaphor for public lands access when they launched the Hill to Crag program. Central to both climbing and public lands advocacy is an ethos of respect for natural resources and the responsible placing of protections, be them nuts and crams or legislature. The AAC will hold their final adventure of 2018 on November 16 in Chimney Rock State Park, North Carolina (pictured in cover photo). Harvison says that the program will launch spring events in Oregon and Montana and has plans for a route bolting clinic in Wyoming after a successful Hill to Crag climb in the state’s Vedauwoo Recreation Area last month. In concert with the Hill to Crag series, the American Alpine Club is also expanding veteran and active-duty military outreach with new discounted club membership options and targeted events.

Special thanks to US Army Major Byron Harvison, who was interviewed for this piece.

Cover photo by dconvertini via Flickr,

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