Roger Marolt: Roger This | AspenTimes.com

Roger Marolt: Roger This

Roger Marolt
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

For those of you who have plastered those round white stickers on your vehicles with “Hidden Gems” printed across them negated by a red circle around and slash over the words, would you change your minds about supporting legislation to expand Colorado wilderness areas if somebody gave you a really cool, completely complimentary airplane ride over and around our local mountains and the public lands that are proposed to be converted by this pending legislation?

Of course you wouldn’t. And, neither would I. I bring this up because I recently was given the exact flight, and I don’t want anyone to accuse me of being influenced by a bribe. Even though it was super cool, exhilarating, spectacular and fun, I have not changed my mind about Hidden Gems. I have always supported it.

And, yes, I do see the hypocrisy in flying around the Elk Mountains in an airplane to assess the environmental situation. I am a human environmentalist, not a recycled aluminum robot programed to never forget a reusable shopping bag when I enter City Market.

Sometimes I snag a free plastic bag from the produce section to carry out my milk and loaf of bread, and I’m never going to turn down a free airplane tour of the wilderness no matter how much fuel we burn to do it. So what if I’m loyal to the environment only when it is convenient? If more people only fed the hungry when it was convenient to write a small check, there would be a lot fewer hungry people on the planet.

Now that I’ve covered my butt on these two issues (i.e. that I accept bribes and am a hypocrite), we can move through this week’s topic more smoothly.

First, just a few words on the economics of land preservation: It pays handsomely. According to a fresh-off-the-presses study by Headwater Economics in Montana, job growth in Colorado counties with more than 30 percent of their land protected as wilderness, national parks, and/or national monuments have seen employment increase by 345 percent since 1970. As the percentage of protected lands drops, so does economic growth significantly. Counties containing no protected lands had job growth of a measly 83 percent over the same period.

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In a spiritual way, it is true that the meek will eventually inherit the earth, but unfortunately it is also true that in the meantime, they will eat a lot of dust, especially if they are being humbled in lands populated by dirt bikes and four-wheelers.

I have said it many times before: The last thing mixed-use public lands are is mixed-use. Mixed-use is nixed use for hikers, picnickers and outdoor poets. Loud, fast and smoky motorized vehicles pretty much chase all other potential users away, not just calving elk. I’m not saying these vehicles shouldn’t have places to go nuts in. I’m just saying let’s not pretend that public lands open to armored dudes on motor bikes are widely enjoyed by anyone else.

From the air you see it. It’s clear that local opponents of Hidden Gems, as amended, are squawking about the loss of use of no more than 12 miles of existing, horribly eroded, disjointed and basically useless roads and trails; either that or in principle they would like to keep open the option of developing more roads and trails in the proposed new wilderness areas.

To the first argument, nobody will be affected. The short sections of existing trails and roads that would be closed under the amended Hidden Gems plan will affect next to nobody and nobody significantly.

To the second argument, the parcels of land selected to become designated wilderness area under the amended plan are far too small individually to build any meaningful trials or roads through. They are all contiguous to existing wilderness area. The reason there are not trails or roads through these areas already is because it would have been pointless to make them there.

Now, remember how I began this column talking about changing minds? Despite the brilliant arguments I’ve made here, I’ve been in the opinion promulgation business long enough to know that the odds of changing even one person’s position on the Hidden Gems issue are about as short as any new trails through them could be. So, why write this column, right?

This issue will come down to numbers. If you are in favor of expanding protected designated wilderness area in our own backyard, you must make your support for Hidden Gems known to our legislators. Don’t wait! It only takes a minute. Opponents are already sounding off and leaving the rest of us in the dust.

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