This opinion column ran in the print edition of the Denver Post on January 28, 2024. Click here to see the PDF version of this story.
BY MARK UDALL
From my earliest days, the Great Outdoors has been my classroom, my sanctuary, and the forge that shaped my character. My countless days spent exploring free-flowing rivers, old-growth forests, and the majestic peaks of America’s public lands have been woven into the fabric of my being. In the quiet solitude of these landscapes, I found a connection to the essence of our nation-a connection that transcends personal backgrounds, familial ties, or financial status.
As a proud contributor to our nation’s stewardship of public lands, my family has dedicated a century to conservation and reconciliation with Tribal nations. Our journey, like so many others, is an integral thread in the intricate quilt ofAmerica’s national parks and public lands. This quilt, with its patches and threads, binds together our diverse peoples and histories, encapsulating both our darkest moments and our most hopeful aspirations.
However, this quilt is not without blemishes. It is essential that we confront the complex history of our public lands, acknowledging the forced displacement, violence, and trauma perpetrated upon Indigenous peoples by European settlers. From the geysers of Yellowstone to the beauty of Yosemite Valley, these revered places hold a history that demands our attention as we continue our national reckoning on racial injustice and inequality.
In the midst of this reckoning, we find ourselves at a pivotal moment in the conservation and management of our public lands. President Joe Biden’s leadership is a beacon of hope, steering us toward a future where these lands are not just preserved, but celebrated as a testament to our shared heritage.
In his first three years alone, President Biden has safeguarded 1.5 million acres-a pace that sets him on a trajectory to become the best first-term conservation president in U.S. history.
What makes this leadership truly historic is the emphasis on inclusivity and collaboration. Monument declarations, from Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni in Arizona to Avi Kwa Ame in Nevada, have been led by Indigenous communities with a millennia-old connection to these lands. In nominating Deb Haaland of the Laguna Pueblo as the first Indigenous Interior Secretary, President Biden reinforces a commitment to inclusion and representation that is long overdue.
During my tenure in the U.S. Senate, I helped lead the bipartisan effort to protect Browns Canyon in Colorado, an initiative that received vital support from the Obama-Biden Administration. Through conversations with business owners in Salida, a float down the Arkansas River with veterans, speaking to ranchers in pastures near Buena Vista, or just listening to residents in Nathrop, I witnessed how conserving our public lands can bring people together and bridge the partisan divide.
Whether it’s Browns Canyon or the stunning landscapes of Utah’s Bears Ears (Hoon’Naqvut [Hopi], Shash Jaa’ [Navajo], Kwiyagatu Nukavachi [Ute], and Ansh An Lashokdiwe [Zuni]), our public lands—the lands we all share and own in common—can inspire us to see beyond our differences. It is a lesson learned through generations in my family, a lesson echoed by the Biden Administration as we collectively walk the path of unity and healing. As we reflect on the transformational journey of America’s public lands, let us acknowledge our shared responsibility to conserve, protect, and cherish these spaces. President Biden’s commitment to this cause is not just a policy directive: It is a declaration that our public lands are a quilt that binds us all—a source of healing and unity for generations to come.
Mark Udall represented Colorado in the U.S.Senate from 2009 to 2015 and the 2nd Congressional District from 1999 to 2009.
Featured image: Yellowstone National Park, Wikimedia