Stimulus plan can promote conservation
By KEN SALAZAR THE PUEBLO CHIEFTAIN
THE PUEBLO CHIEFTAIN Opinion Page
The national economic crisis might not seem to be the time for Americans to build a conservation legacy for the future.
But history tells us otherwise. In fact, some of the greatest strides in conserving our nation's unique landscapes for future generations occurred during times of war and economic crisis.
In the middle of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln signed the first legislation setting aside the beautiful Yosemite Valley in California as a protected area. The idea of a national park was born, and today we have 391 units in our National Park System.
During the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps and put hundreds of thousands of young people to work at national parks and on other public lands, planting trees, constructing roads and visitor facilities and undertaking a wide swath of other projects.
Americans today still benefit from this work done in the 1930s. For example, the Civilian Conservation Corps - the "CCC boys" - constructed the breathtaking "Going to the Sun" Road in Glacier National Park and 105-mile Skyline Drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah National Park.
America now faces the worst economic crisis since those dark years of the Great Depression.
Once again, we have an opportunity to put people to work on conservation projects to renew our national parks, wildlife refuges and other public lands.
The economic recovery package passed by Congress (and to be signed into law today by President Barack Obama) includes badly needed funding for projects at the Department of the Interior. It will create as many as 100,000 new jobs in communities across America.
This funding will allow for investment in projects that could be undertaken immediately on our public lands across the country.
In Southern Colorado, for example, the recovery package will provide more than $3.8 million to help restore our national wildlife refuges and national parks.
The investments will go to fixing fences, rebuilding roads and improving interpretive facilities at the Baca, Alamosa and Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuges.
At Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, the economy recovery act will allow the National Park Service, among other projects, to reclaim abandoned sand and gravel pits near the beautiful Sand Creek, so that we can help restore native trout to the park.
The president's economic recovery package illustrates the old adage that crisis and opportunity are two sides of the same coin.
Yes, we are in a time of crisis. But yes, we can use this as a chance to make an investment in conserving America's timeless treasures - our stunning natural landscapes, our monuments to liberty, the icons of our culture and heritage - while helping working families and their communities prosper again.
Americans are proud to have the finest network of public lands dedicated to conservation and recreation in the world.
The recovery legislation provides the opportunity to make our national heritage even more grand for our children and grandchildren.
We must not - and will not - miss it.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is a former U.S. senator and state attorney general of Colorado. He is a native of the San Luis Valley.