March 18, 2013
The Denver Post
By Rev. Lucia Guzman and Nita J. Gonzales
When our good friend Ken Salazar leaves the Department of Interior this month, he will leave a legacy of hard work, which Theodore Roosevelt called “the best prize that life has to offer.”
Over the past four years, Salazar has shown a steadfast commitment to preserving our Western economy and way of life by pursuing a balanced energy policy on our public lands, championing funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and working to ensure the protection of places like Chimney Rock and Rio Grande del Norte.
When President Obama selected him to lead the Department of Interior four years ago, Salazar inherited an agency that was plagued by scandal and mismanagement, one known for its coziness with the oil and gas industry. Today, the agency stands as an independent institution rooted in integrity and right-minded science-based policies, not cronyism and undue political influence.
Salazar was instrumental in the designation of four new national monuments, including Chimney Rock National Monument here in Colorado. Together with Sen. Michael Bennet and Congressman Scott Tipton, Salazar responded to the requests of local businesses owners, tribal leaders, and elected officials, and urged the president to recognize the cultural significance and economic impact of Chimney Rock, which he did by declaring it a National Monument last year.
Salazar also has been an advocate for protecting Rio Grande del Norte, an area in Northern New Mexico that is recognized for its prized wildlife habitat, Hispanic and tribal cultural significance, and its vital contribution to the local recreation-based economy.
Salazar traveled to Taos late last year to meet with community leaders and local business owners who expressed support for the area’s protection. Our hope is that the administration finalizes protection for Rio Grande del Norte before the secretary leaves office, and that similar designation will come for Browns Canyon in the Arkansas Valley, another place that the secretary has fought to protect.
Salazar has consistently proven that he understands the critical role that water plays in sustaining our most vital industries, from farming and ranching to outdoor recreation. Through his leadership, Interior established a new strategy to pursue a sustainable water supply for the nation, including conservation and more efficient use of existing water resources. Salazar supported a balanced oil shale leasing plan, which protected local business owners and the regional economy of western Colorado, while also safeguarding critical water supplies during record drought and 1.6 million acres of wilderness-quality public lands from speculative development.
Salazar can also count among his successes his strong support for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), as he stood up against those in Congress who want to drastically cut or raid the fund despite the fact that it comes entirely from oil and gas leases, not taxpayers. He has made the program a centerpiece of America’s Great Outdoors Initiative, which he modeled after Great Outdoors Colorado.
Selfishly, we are happy to have Salazar back in Colorado. For the sake of our Western heritage and way of life, we hope that Sally Jewell, who President Obama has selected to replace Salazar, will continue to work to restore balance to the management and use of our public lands.
The Rev. Lucia Guzman is president pro tempore of the Colorado State Senate, where she represents District 34. Nita J. Gonzales is president and CEO of Escuela Tlateloco in Denver and co-founder of the Colorado Latino Forum.