A bridge between man and nature
It is heartening to know that good things can happen on the environmental front even while the nation is under the sway of ecovandals in government and industry. The announcement last week that $500,000 has been secured for a vegetated wildlife bridge over U.S. Interstate 70 near Vail Pass is the best news in months. This overpass is vital when considering that in most years there are more deer and elk killed on Colorado highways than during hunting season. The automobile is a lethal weapon against wildlife, and this overpass is a bridge to human responsibility in a world of rapid mobility. The bridge will be vegetated and fenced to ensure safe passage for wildlife across I-70, and it will be the first of its kind in the western states. This makes a good precedent, not only from a safety perspective, but as a contiguous wildlife corridor between bisected national forests such as the White River. We are fortunate in Colorado to have representatives farsighted enough to work toward a solution in the conflict between highways and migrating wildlife. Republican Sen. Wayne Allard, who took the lead, has won favor with wildlife conservationists for his positive, nonpartisan commitment to an issue that crosses party lines.Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of the Wilderness Workshop, commended Allard “for his initiative in placing this project on the map for the benefit of both residents and visitors of Colorado’s spectacular landscape.”U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, U.S. Rep. Mark Udall, the town of Vail, and Eagle County also supported the appropriation request. The Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop and the Denver-based Southern Rockies Ecosystem Project are spearheading the effort. This is the way environmental partnerships ought to work, where local initiatives gain the support of elected representatives who fashion it into policies of national significance. Wildlife preservation is a strong concern in Colorado, and it is good to see elected officials from both sides of the aisle advocate for it.Funding is still needed to complete the project, but this first phase will hopefully garner enough momentum for eventual construction. Hanging in the balance are roadkill casualties on I-70, including mountain lions, moose, coyotes, deer, elk, a wolf and two of Colorado’s Canada lynx.Wildlife in Colorado needs all the help it can get as energy production and land development infringe upon important habitat. A recent proposal by the Forest Service to delist indicator species in the White River National Forest is strangely contradictory to a growing need for sensitivity to wildlife.Another huge threat is House Resources chairman Richard Pombo of California, the Darth Vader of conservation land ethics, who has advocated privatizing millions of acres of public land under the antiquated Mining Law of 1872.Pombo is also pushing for fast-track oil shale development in Colorado, a development that would dwarf historic mining and energy production. In his zeal to turn Colorado into a resource sacrifice zone, Pombo wants to block environmental challenges and cut requirements for federal agencies to consult state and local officials. Colorado Udall and Salazar say Pombo is pushing Colorado faster than it wants to go. “I resent this California attempt to dictate to Colorado how we should develop oil shale,” Salazar said. “The proponents of this don’t live in Colorado,” Udall agreed. “Some of the rest of us think we ought to have some say in this.”Coloradans should also have a say in the integrity of indicator species, stricter regulations for energy producers, better safeguards for air quality, enhancements for water quality and stepped-up conservation of wild lands. Perhaps Allard can convince his fellow Republicans that these protections are worthwhile, not only to Colorado, but to the millions of visitors who find solace and inspiration in our stunning national forests and national parks.The I-70 wildlife overpass will face ridicule by critics who devalue Colorado’s natural heritage. But it’s not the “bridge to nowhere” that Congress has pork-barreled elsewhere. This bridge links the mutual interests of man and nature in Colorado, a bridge we need to build for our future.Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays.
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