Climbing a Mountain to See The View – Ski Bill Success
Each time I drop my head and pause to catch my breath, a bead of sweat runs off the brim of my ballcap, landing between my boots. Lifting my feet to take the next step – left, right, left, right – takes me a few inches higher towards my goal – the 14,199ft summit of Mount Yale, one of the majestic Collegiate Peaks near Buena Vista, Colorado.
The trail I follow parallels Denny Creek, a 12-ft wide rivulet of cold, clean snowmelt, coursing down the mountain, meeting Cottonwood Creek near the trailhead where my truck is parked. Cottonwood Creek drifts down this tight valley, eventually intersecting with the Arkansas River in town. Every direction is spectacular beauty, wild nature, and the burbling sound of the creek as it falls its way through the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness in San Isabel National Forest.
But this scene recently dodged a close call.
A few months ago, The United States Senate was deliberating over the annual Budget Resolution, which sets the nation’s overall funding priorities from everything to paying our soldiers who protect our nation, maintenance for our roads and bridges, funding for student loans, Social Security, and Medicare.
Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado proposed an amendment to the Budget Resolution calling on the Senate to pass legislation that would privatize rivers that run through public lands. Places like where I am standing to catch a breather right now.
The legislation that Sen. Gardner called for passing is the bill that the ski industry and its corporate agriculture and hydrofracker allies had been advocating for back in 2013. Thankfully, this legislation has so far been stopped cold by American Rivers and its allies throughout the conservation and recreation community.
Fortunately, in December, the U.S. Forest Service released its final Ski Area Clause, thus hopefully ending the saga of the ski areas legislative attempt to rewrite the laws governing the management of water on federal lands.
The Clause was a win for rivers and is substantially similar to the draft Clause published in 2014, other than a few minor tweaks to meet some technical concerns of the ski areas, which American Rivers and our partners did not oppose. But the key framework of the revised clause remains the same: The Service maintains that it has Constitutional and statutory authority to manage water on federal lands and to include conditions for doing so in special use permits.
Now, the Forest Service is focused on making sure that there is sufficient water available on public lands for the operation of ski areas AND for performing its statutory duty to protect public resources. This win was brought about by American Rivers-led effort on Capitol Hill and within the Administration, by the hard work on the ground by Colorado Basin staff, and by the loud voice of the public who stepped up in defense of places like Denny Creek by sending in 12,731 comments to the Forest Service, which indicated that “more than 12,000” supported the rule.
Like climbing this mountain, achieving these kinds of accomplishments takes effort, strategy, and dedication to making the goal a reality, with the ultimate reward of taking in the view from the top. Experiences like this present a reminder about how vigilant we all must remain in keeping our public lands, and the waters that reside from them and are critical to their health, protected and viable for generations to come.
More than 25,000 spoke out in support of this rule, and as I raise a mug of this (filtered) water to my lips for some refreshment, I want to say “thanks” to each one of you who did. See you at the top!