The Next Four Years on the Colorado Plateau
By: Jack Stauss
What a Biden Presidency Means for the Colorado Plateau
Since Donald Trump was elected president, environmental advocacy and many recreation communities have been on defense. Rivers, public land, and ecosystems have been in the crosshairs of economic development, pipelines, and walls. In the last few years, there have been many campfire conversations along the river where conservatives and progressives alike have been flabbergasted by the environmental rollbacks Trump allowed for. But in November America voted, and decided to steer the raft in a different direction.
On January 21st Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were sworn into office as the new leaders of the United States. This ushers in what many of us hope will be a new era in sustainability for the land, water, and green energy in the West.
Who’s calling the shots now?
While we’re still learning what policy Biden will put in place, we have started to see some positive movement as far as the Southwest is concerned. First and foremost, Biden has nominated New Mexico representative Deb Haaland to head the Department of the Interior. If confirmed, she will be the first Native American to hold the position. This cabinet role is integral in managing the regions surrounding the rivers we love.
Her dedication to tribal sovereignty and protecting public lands is paramount to a successful future of living in coexistence with the desert landscape that we all call home. Specifically, Haaland has called for an end to fossil fuel development on public lands. Biden and she have both said they will restore the original boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase. She will block oil development at Chaco Canyons. And finally, she introduced legislation that would permanently protect 30% of the nation’s land and water. Certainly the latter will come with protections and resources for the rivers of the Plateau.
Public land’s and the river system
At the core of a new administration and the people that are being appointed, is the idea that we should keep public lands in public hands. When we privatize areas, we open them up for development. This in turn fragments ecosystems, degrades watersheds through erosion, and promotes endless exploitation of wildspace. To help protect and in many cases restore the southwest river systems we must allow these places to exist without privatization, and that means a strong, well funded governing agency from Washington. So far, Biden and his administration seem to be sympathetic toward a healthy environment. Here in Utah, they have had calls and conferences with our local environmental organizations. As river enthusiasts this is something we should be very thankful about. Here are some direct impacts a Biden admin will have on Utah’s public lands.
The big picture
The final consideration and one that should be paramount in our minds when it comes to who’s in charge of America is that of climate change. Climate change has had devastating impacts on the flows of all the rivers in the Colorado River system, and models project that it will only get worse. Biden has already rejoined the Paris Climate Accord and has stated that he will halt any new oil and gas leasing on public land. Another impressive policy action is the initiation of the Civilian Climate Conservation Initiative. This program will work on solving a myriad of environmental problems, including watershed health, and create thousands of well-paying jobs. We need huge, bold action when it comes to climate change and these actions are promising first steps.
Think about a river trip you’ve gone on. The animals you saw, the canyons you hiked, the permits that helped you secure an amazing camp – the golden glow of the afternoon light making the whole place vibrate with life and color. This is only possible if we have a government that allows for it. And while it is great that Biden is in and he is choosing members that fit a brighter future, we must not get complacent. Recreating in these amazing landscapes is in itself a political move – we’re on land that we all share! So stay informed, keep voting, and remember that we are at once a visitor and a steward so that future generations might get to see the glow.
Jack Stauss moved to Salt Lake City in 2008 in pursuit of big mountains and wide open spaces. He has spent the last several years both enjoying and advocating for public lands and free flowing rivers. While he’s not typing on his keyboard, he will be backcountry skiing in the Wasatch or exploring Utah’s wild deserts. Read some of his environmental musings at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at @jackstauss on Instagram