From the 2020 Annual Report

Our work includes so many different facets of protecting public lands – this past year included new and ongoing legal work, modified community outreach programs, and the creation of brand-new initiatives. Some of this past year’s highlights include:

West Elk Coal Mine In June 2020, Mountain Coal Company defied a court order and illegally bulldozed a nearly mile-long road and two large drilling pads in the midst of the spectacular Sunset Roadless Area near Paonia. Wilderness Workshop joined inspectors with the State of Colorado to survey the damage done, and it was astounding to see first-hand this egregious trespass on our public lands. Thankfully, in October, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked further construction in the Sunset Roadless Area while our legal challenge to the coal mine expansion moves forward. It was an important victory, but the fight is far from over.

Naturalist Nights – This longrunning weekly winter speaker series – a collaboration with the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies and Roaring Fork Audubon – wrapped up just before the pandemic began. With topics ranging from feral horses to the vulnerability of mountain rivers to climate change, this series had something for everyone. New in 2020 was our first bilingual (English and Spanish) presentation, “Border Wall Impacts on Wildlife, Wilderness, and Communities: A View from Both Sides.”

CORE Act – A critical piece of our long-term efforts to protect the Thompson Divide became part of the larger CORE (Colorado Outdoor Recreation & Economy) Act in 2019. 2020 saw the CORE Act again pass the US House, but it stalled in the Senate, despite a hearing there and Senator Michael Bennet’s best efforts. In the current Congress, passing the CORE Act will be a priority for the long-standing champions we’ve cultivated in Rep. Joe Neguse and Senator Michael Bennet, as well as newly-elected Senator John Hickenlooper. 

30×30 – Protecting nature is a critical piece of addressing the twin biodiversity and climate change crisis, and 2020 saw the emergence of a plan known as the Global Deal for Nature and an ambitious new goal: protecting 30% of lands and waters by 2030, commonly referred to as 30×30. Staff contributed to the “Colorado Pathways to 30×30” report and began planning new land and water protections campaigns across Western Colorado that will take off in 2021. 

Colorado Wildlands Project We’re maneuvering quickly to leverage political momentum for public land conservation with the creation of the Colorado Wildlands Project! The Colorado Wildlands Project is dedicated to the conservation, climate resilience and equitable management of our public lands, and focuses on protecting wildlands managed by the Bureau of Land Management in western Colorado. The Colorado Wildlands Project is powered with coordinated support from Wilderness Workshop and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. 

Uncompahgre Resource Management Plan – In September, we sued the BLM over their land use plan for the Uncompahgre region. It would open vast areas of western Colorado, including the fruitful North Fork Valley, to oil and gas drilling while failing to protect wilderness quality public lands, wildlife habitat, and other natural resources. The plan is the result of political interference by the Trump administration and ignored years of collaboration and local public input in order to prioritize giveaways to the oil and gas industry.

Berlaimont – Our work to stop construction of a new paved road through critical wildlife habitat proposed by the developer of Berlaimont Estates (a proposed development 2,000 feet above the town of Eagle) continued throughout 2020. Though in-person gatherings were limited, we rallied community members who signed petitions, submitted comments, and galvanized elected officials at the local, state, and national level in opposition. The US Forest Service issued a final EIS and draft decision in September 2020; Wilderness Workshop and others have filed an objection to this decision, and we anticipate a final decision in mid 2021. 

I Heart Public Lands – Advocacy and accountability have been strategies in our work for years; in 2020, we added “voter engagement” to that list.  Hopefully you saw our “I Heart Public lands” and “Vote Public Lands” materials over the summer and into the fall. Whether you were submitting comments to a federal agency, learning more about the local issues on the ballot, or talking with your friends and family about public lands, thank you! Colorado voter turnout reached record levels in 2020 and we’re already planning for the future! 

Defiende Nuestra Tierra (Defend our Land) – Our Defiende Nuestra Tierra program, which focuses on engaging the Roaring Fork and Colorado River Valley Latinx communities in public lands and environmental justice issues, continued to grow and evolve in 2020. In addition to adding Beatriz Soto joining us full time and new partnerships, highlights included:

  • Launching  “Snow Days,” a bilingual (English and Spanish) winter event series, focused on breaking down barriers to winter outdoor activities; Snow Days included our first snowshoe drive and compliments Defiende’s robust summer programming. 
  • As part of expaded advocacy efforts, Defiende organized 50 multigenerational Latinx people for Latino/a Advocacy Day at the state capital, meet with state representatives and advocated for environmental justice and land conservation. Defiende also led Western Colorado’s participation in a virtual national Latino Conservation Week in July 2020. 
  • New and expanded communications with the launch of a quarterly Defiende Newsletter, selected bilingual advocacy alerts, continued growth of the Defiende Facebook page, and stories in both local and national media outlets.