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Protecting our land and way of life

The spring winds have arrived and the weekend flights back and forth from Denver and Durango have become a bit more exciting for all.

The bumpier flights are still much more comfortable than the long, rough travel my great-grandparents experienced when headed west in a wagon to Nebraska and eventually Colorado, so I’m not complaining, just commenting.

Last week, I was humbled to receive the Champion of Conservation award from the Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts (CCLT). CCLT is a statewide organization and has a number of members, individuals as well as organizations like the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust.

CCLT has come together, in their words, “to protect nearly 2 million acres of Colorado’s wildlife habitat, working farms and ranches, and significant natural landscapes.” The last recipients of the award were Sen. Jim Isgar and Rep. Alice Madden in 2008.

This recognition is particularly meaningful to me as it ties together my current work with some of my past experiences that I value most.

While I didn’t arrive to Colorado in a wagon like my great-grandparents, it was a 1970s Chevette, owned by a college friend of mine traveling west with me. In a phone call home to touch base while on our cross country camping trip, my mother told me there was a job waiting for me in Grand Lake at Rocky Mountain National Park. My friends kindly released me early from acting as the guide for the trip and I’ve been in Colorado ever since.

My perspectives on best land management practices have evolved over time, but my appreciation for the conservation of open space and the many values of viable agriculture has only deepened with time. While practicing law, I worked with families seeking to keep their farms and ranches in production for generations to come and conservation easements have provided a valuable tool for them to do that.

As a legislator, I’ve had a few opportunities to help advocate and protect the public’s investment in conserved lands and I see it as one of the most notable public-private partnerships that make Colorado a wonderful place to live.

This past weekend, Rep. J. Paul Brown and I were on a panel on legislative issues at the Four Corners Ag Expo in Cortez. Attending the expo refreshed my spirits for another week at the Capitol. My son, Ben, a ranch hand, went with me, one of the many young people walking around the fairgrounds checking out the equipment, exhibits and training seminars.

Food independence for this nation is critically important and its future rests in the hands of the younger generations. It can be a tough sell. As hard as I work in this job, it doesn’t compare to the efforts of those who are outside in the wind, snow and rain as calves are born and the green shoots of spring start breaking through the crusty ground.

Twenty years ago this week, my father passed away from cancer. As I received the CCLT award, I thought of him and his time as a farmer, his days balanced between teaching and being a seasonal state park ranger, and the love of the earth and the West that he instilled in me. I’m honored to join the efforts of others in protecting our land and way of life.

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