Local conservation advocates take to the skies over Roaring Fork Valley

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Local conservation advocates take to the skies over Roaring Fork Valley

Date: 07/03/2023     Category: News & Media     Author: Megan Webber     Publication: Aspen Daily News    

Original Post ➡️

Ecoflight pilot Gary Kraft, left, Wilderness Workshop advocacy director Erin Riccio and Colorado Rep. Elizabeth Velasco posed together on Thursday after a flight from Aspen to Rifle to see western Colorado’s public lands from above. Megan Webber/Aspen Daily News

A new rule proposed by the Bureau of Land Management would put conservation on equal footing with other land uses and ensure healthy landscapes on BLM land that include areas in Garfield County and the Roaring Fork Valley. 

The Public Lands Rule would give guidance to manage for resilient ecosystems, apply land health standards, and protect intact landscapes that provide wildlife habitats, clean air and water, recreational opportunities and community benefits. It would continue to allow grazing, drilling and other extraction, but it would change future BLM planning and advance conservation management. 

“We know that this mission already exists in the BLM and is congressionally mandated, and so this rule will kind of bring the actual implementation and management up to speed,” said Erin Riccio, advocacy director for Wilderness Workshop. “We’re enthusiastic and excited, and we think that they’re offering a lot of great ways to go about this. We think it could be strengthened in some ways, certainly, but we’re really excited that the BLM is taking the initiative to do this.” 

On Thursday, Riccio joined EcoFlight pilot Gary Kraft, Colorado Rep. Elizabeth Velasco and video creator Alex Haraus for a flight from the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport over Glenwood Springs and the Interstate 70 corridor toward Grand Junction to see some of the lands that would be impacted by the rule. Velasco, who serves on the state House of Representatives’ Agriculture, Water and Natural Resources committee, spoke about her efforts to support conservation and expand access to clean air and water. She also encouraged others to reach out to their representatives and get involved. 

“These issues are so important to elevate so we can start fixing them,” she said. “All things are connected to clean water and a thriving economy. We need your support. We’re stronger together.” 

During the flight, Riccio and Kraft pointed out the visual differences between lands developed for oil and gas extraction and those that are protected by higher levels of conservation designations. Closer to Aspen, most of the surrounding land belongs to the National Forest Service and is not as developed as BLM lands in Garfield County.

Wilderness Workshop advocates for healthy public land management and habitat protection in local areas including the Thompson Divide and the Crystal River Valley. On the Public Lands Rule, Wilderness Workshop and other groups are calling on the BLM to make improvements that would prioritize habitat connectivity, protect old growth and mature forests, preserve intact natural landscapes, ensure the protection of Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, and consult and work with local indigenous tribes.

ACEC is a conservation designation that is given to areas that provide scenic value, cultural value and thriving wildlife habitat. Western Colorado is home to several of these areas, including the Grand Hogback ridge near Rifle and Thompson Creek.

“There’s a super strong need for this conservation rule,” Riccio said. “The public can’t really see the whole impact when you’re driving down I-70.”

Kraft also pointed out oil and gas rigs that could be seen from above, and noted that they are not producing as high volumes of product that they once did. Still, the areas are developed with roads and infrastructure that is not only aesthetically impactful, but also harmful to surface water and wildlife. 

EcoFlight is dedicated to education and advocacy for protecting wild lands and habitats using small aircraft. Seeing the landscapes from an aerial view provided an insight into what is currently happening to local public lands and what the proposed rule could mean for change in the area. 

“We can kind of see for ourselves and envision what could potentially change with this rule,” Riccio said.
Velasco said the state of Colorado is committed to protecting public lands, and legislators are exploring technology to plug leaking oil and gas wells and collect data on how much leakage exists, which she said the state does not yet have enough information about. The state is also looking into funding for air quality monitoring, but Velasco said that more needs to be done. 

She encouraged people to reach out to her to make their voices heard, especially communities of color. Velasco can be reached at elizabeth.velasco.house@coleg.gov

The BLM is collecting public comment on the Public Lands Rule until Wednesday. To submit comments, visit blm.gov/public-lands-rule

Haraus also participated in the flight as part of a social media campaign to advocate for conservation on BLM lands. To see video content from the flight, follow @alex.haraus on Instagram or TikTok.