Washington D.C.— Congressman Joe Neguse (D-CO) chaired a House Natural Resources Committee virtual roundtable discussion this week, highlighting the economic benefits of wildlife preservation and the lack of diversity in the outdoors scenes, using Colorado as a case study and featuring panelists from Colorado in the discussion.
According to Neguse and a UN report, there are currently around one million animals and plant species threatened with extinction. This trend will likely continue through 2050 if no drastic actions are taken, he said.
He believes their preservation should be the “highest priority” and criticizes the Trump administration from “turning its back on wildlife.”
Wildlife Conservation’s Economic Benefits
Neguse sees Colorado’s wildlife conservation program as a role model.
“Colorado’s thriving ecotourism and wildlife viewing industry point to the many ways that healthy species and ecosystems can contribute to our economy in a sustainable way,” he said. “Colorado’s voice and actions on this issue deserve to be heard at a national level to help chart a course for others to follow.”
These successes include Governor Polis’s commitment to wildlife corridors, the potential reintroduction of the gray wolf, and the designation of Lafayette as the state’s first “Bird City,” according to Neguse.
Furthermore, Neguse argues that wildlife conservation stimulates the economy. Its effects are amplified in a state with vibrant tourism and outdoor industries, such as Colorado, he said.
“Wildlife viewing has an enormous economic impact on our state,” he said. “It supports 4,600 jobs, $202 million in wages, $631 million in sales, and $79 million in state and federal tax revenue in 2016.”Rep. Joe Neguse
Diversity in the Outdoors
While Neguse emphasized the economic benefits of wildlife preservation during his opening presentation to the roundtable, the discussion soon turned to the lack of diversity within the outdoors industry and community.
According to an Outdoor Foundation report in 2018, half of the US population do not participate in any outdoor recreation at all.
“Despite the enormous benefits that the outdoor provides [to Colorado,] stark disparities have made any low-income community and communities of color without access to equal outdoor recreation opportunities,” said Loretta Pineda, Executive Director of Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK). “There are entrenched barriers, ranging from social, racial, economic and educational inequities, affecting not just students, families, communities, but also generations”
Cost and a lack of transportation are two major factors making the outdoors inaccessible, said Pineda. A student once told her that “I can see the Rocky mountains outdoors but ‘getting out there’ is not a reality.”
“I can see the Rocky mountains outdoors but ‘getting out there’ is not a reality.”A Student at Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK)
Pineda advocates for more programs offering cheap, accessible tours and outdoor trips for children from low income, marginalized families, who are disproportionately people of color. ELK aims to increase the outdoor exposure and appreciation of these children by arranging wildlife viewing trips and transportation to local parks, mountains, and reservoirs, she said.
Colorado’s first gentleman and animal welfare advocate, Marlon Reis, agrees. Reis actively supports more free access to national parks and trails, as well as better transportation to those locations.
He believes in “including public land funding in COVID-related fundings… and prioritizing wildlife infrastructure and transit services.”
“These fundings [for wildlife conservation] are not only for us, but for future generations,” he said.
Pineda also pushes for racial diversity in the outdoors industry, by seeking to expose and eliminate racial biases in its hiring and operational capacities. “We must break down the institutionalized racial biases with hiring in the field,” she said.
Taishya Adams, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commissioner, also promotes “recentering marginalized communities” at the center of the wildlife preservation and outdoor diversity discussion.
Adams advocates for more diversity, not only at the hiring level, but also at the policy-making level. She believes that we can only have truly inclusive policies if we have top-down diversification in the legislative bodies.
“Racial diversity is not reflected in climate and outdoors-related agencies,” Adams said. “There is a ‘green ceiling.’”