Finally, citizens get to vote on Greg Walcher

Gary Hubbell

So Greg Walcher is finally running for office. Hallelujah. It’s about time.Walcher is a career bureaucrat and powermonger who has wielded enormous influence over Colorado politics for the last decade, and it’s about time the voters got to show him how they like his policies. Walcher is a dyed-in-the-wool, true-blue, dig it/blast it/drill it conservative who has presided over some of the most appalling environmental damage that this state has seen since the early mining days, and as such, the voters of the massive 3rd Congressional District should say “No thanks, Greg.”Most recently, Walcher was appointed by neoconservative Gov. Bill Owens to head the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. This is where Walcher did the most damage. The Department of Natural Resources oversees the Colorado Oil & Gas Commission, the Division of Wildlife, Parks & Recreation, and the Water Conservation Board, as well as state lands, all mining in the state, and the Colorado state forests.Prior to that, Walcher was the director of Club 20, a Western Colorado lobbying group. As a lobbyist, he represented extractive industries such as grazing, logging and mining.Through these two positions, Walcher has exerted enormous influence on Colorado politics, and you can bet there’s been plenty of arm-twisting and subterfuge along the way. Despite his behind-the-scenes power, he’s never stood the test of the voters. Now he’s come out from the shadows and wants to climb up to Washington. Let’s look at his record.The Colorado Oil & Gas Commission, composed of drilling-industry cohorts, has turned a deaf ear to western Colorado as great swaths of the state have been churned up by road graders, pipeline crews and drilling rigs. Rural residents have endured toxic gases seeping into their water wells, the stench of drilling rigs, rural roads destroyed by overweight equipment, and let’s not forget the thousands and thousands of acres of big-game habitat that has been lost to hunters for years to come. This is a legacy of George Bush, Governor Owens and Walcher, under whose watch this environmental devastation has occurred.As the leader of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Walcher oversaw the disastrous Referendum A, Owens’ attempt to push through a $2 billion dam-building spree that many voters feared would send Western Slope water to thirsty Front Range subdivisions. This is the kiss of death for a Western Colorado politician. Even the most politically conservative Western Slope resident cannot abide the thought of taxing Western Slope residents to send our precious water over to developers on the Front Range. Referendum A lost by a 2-1 margin statewide and by a 4-1 margin on the Western Slope. Walcher has since tried to distance himself from Referendum A, but let’s face it, the Department of Natural Resources oversees permitting of dam-building and water storage in the state of Colorado. Heck, he and Owens even rammed through a proposal to clear-cut swaths of the Colorado State Forest so that those pesky trees would quit soaking up water and more of it would flow into Front Range reservoirs.Perhaps most troubling to me, however, is Walcher’s totalitarian leadership of the Colorado Division of Wildlife. In the Roaring Fork Valley, our most pressing wildlife concern is the loss of critical winter wildlife habitat through overdevelopment of winter range. Elk and deer have plenty of acreage to roam in the summer, when the high vistas and rich forage beckon. But in the winter, places where deer and elk used to eke out a living have turned into golf courses, subdivisions, ranchettes and mini-marts. There is a mechanism in the planning process of all our local county governments for professional biologists and wildlife managers to comment on the effects of development proposals on our wildlife. Each county has language in its planning process that development shall not negatively affect wildlife. Greg Walcher muzzled our professional wildlife managers by instituting an official DNR policy threatening dismissal if Division of Wildlife personnel gave their professional opinions on any development proposals. This is infuriating. The elk herd in units 43 and 471 is, according to the Division of Wildlife, slated for a permanent herd reduction from 4,000 to 3,000 elk. This is not because the elk are overpopulated. The population has remained steady. This is because we’ve allowed their habitat to be taken away, and ranchers and homeowners don’t want the elk in their haystacks and rose gardens.The very future of our elk herds is in jeopardy because of overbuilding in winter habitat, and wildlife personnel absolutely must have the freedom to speak publicly about these issues. It’s undemocratic for the taxpayers to fund their salaries and education and then to have their professional opinions suppressed by an appointed bureaucrat who has never been elected to office. Again, Walcher is on the side of the money interests, the developers.If Walcher’s national politics interest you, he’s toeing the neoconservative Republican party line, supporting Bush all the way in Iraq, tax cuts, and seeking to dismantle the Endangered Species Act. His stances on gay marriage, gun control and taxes are predictable. That shouldn’t matter as much as what he’s done here in Colorado. Voters should look at his record of behind-the-scenes manipulations and show him the door. Gary Hubbell lives in Marble, where he and his wife, Doris, operate OutWest Guides. They offer summer horseback rides, fly-fishing trips and autumn big-game hunts.