Balanced Conservation

Last week, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar found an intelligent solution to a controversial debate in northern California by balancing conservation with preservation of the local ranching heritage.

After careful deliberation and in-person discussions with parties on both sides of the issue, the Secretary honored a long-standing agreement to let the lease of a commercial oyster company with in the boundaries of Point Reyes National Seashore expire under its own terms, allowing for a 36-year-old congressionally-mandated wilderness declaration -- the first marine wilderness area in the continental U.S. -- to take effect.

In defending Congress's wilderness designation, the Secretary also acted to preserve the park's diverse agricultural history. He simultaneously extended the leases for local dairy farmers from 10 to 20 years; these operations are outside the designated wilderness area but within the boundaries of the national park.

As a retired farmer and rancher myself, I appreciate Secretary Salazar's commitment to finding common-sense solutions that protect the land and water that we rely on. In the West, difficult decisions like this one, which entail balancing development with protections for our parks, public lands and waters, happen all the time. And as the Point Reyes example illustrates, it can be done.

Here in Colorado, we wrestle with balancing oil and gas development with protections for the outdoors. We depend on water from the Colorado River for our ranches and homes; our public lands and rivers also boost tourism and outdoor recreation, and even lure high-tech businesses here, growing jobs and our economy. That means restoring balance to the management of our public lands is essential.

There has been so much talk about the rush to drill for oil and gas on our Western public lands (I've raised concerns about oil shale speculation before) and much less discussion about what needs protection. As we open up more places for development, we also need to take steps to protect the public lands and waters that hunters, anglers, small business owners, ranchers, and our economy depend on.

Secretary Salazar grew up on a ranch in Southern Colorado and knows firsthand the critical role that agriculture plays in the region's history and its future. As he begins a second term in his position, I encourage him to continue standing strong for our nation's ranchers and farmers and for a balanced approach, like the one taken in California, to protecting and preserving the lands and water that we all share.