Guest Commentary: Congress should halt threat to outdoor economy

Colorado's outdoor recreation industry and our very way of life could be lost forever if some members of the U.S. House of Representatives have their way.

Earlier this month, the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee voted 28-18 in favor of an Interior spending bill that shreds protections for the public lands, parks and rivers that support Colorado's recreation economy and way of life.

Loaded with detrimental policy changes aimed at undercutting the Clean Water Act and the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to keep our rivers, streams and drinking water clean, the 2012 spending bill poses a unprecedented threat to conservation efforts, the economy and the environment.

This Interior appropriations bill represents an extreme agenda to eliminate decades of protections for the air, water and parks Colorado's economy depends on. The outdoor recreation industry generates $10 billion annually right here in Colorado, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. It's an economic engine in our state that supports over 100,000 jobs and accounts for almost a half-billion dollars in state revenues for our schools and roads.

Visitors travel from across the country and across the world to fish our gold medal streams, raft and kayak our free-flowing rivers, ski picturesque mountain peaks and hunt the elk, moose and waterfowl found in abundance throughout our national forests and public lands.

But House Interior appropriations bill threatens all of that. Currently, it includes damaging efforts to:

  • Gut programs that protect our drinking water and preserve parks like the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and fuel a $730 billion outdoor national recreation industry.
  • Clear the way for new uranium mining at the Grand Canyon, threatening the Colorado River water supply for 25 million Americans and a $700 million tourism industry.
  • Undo 40 years of efforts to clean up America's polluted waterways, returning to the days when industry dumped toxic sludge into our drinking water and oil-soaked rivers caught fire. The move comes as the Yellowstone River, a treasured waterway that provides drinking water for Montana residents, was contaminated with spilled oil.

While Colorado's economy is showing slow signs of recovery, we cannot afford to lose what little progress we have made. The Interior appropriations bill will permanently alter the condition of the places that support our families and our way of life.

Congress has a choice: support the long term economic benefits provided by places like the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park and the thousands of American jobs that they support, or do away with the protections for places where we hunt, fish and recreate.

Continuing to cut critical funding and protections for our nation's rivers, lakes and public only robs our children, grandchildren and local communities of the recreation opportunities we've enjoyed and depended on for generations. Without protections that keep our rivers clean, our parks, local water supplies, gold medal fisheries, wildlife and local economies face a sad future. Programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund -- funded through offshore drilling royalties, not taxpayer dollars -- could be slashed by 80 percent.

As passionate anglers and sportsmen, we encourage our Congressional Representatives in Colorado -- especially Rep. Cory Gardner, who sits on the Congressional Sportsmen Caucus, and Rep. Scott Tipton, who sits on the Natural Resources Committee -- to recognize the recreational, economic, and lifestyle benefits of protecting our water and rivers when they vote on the Interior appropriations bill and amendments.

Sinjin Eberle is president of Colorado Trout Unlimited. John LeCoq is the founder of Fishpond USA.