Left: Jeremy Romero, National Wildlife Federation; Middle: New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham; Right: Andrew Pappas, Outdoor Industry Association

Celebrating 30 Years

We started the night remembering our roots and the amazing people who brought us to this moment. The late Kelley Green started WRA in 1989 as the Land and Water – LAW – Fund of the Rockies, an environmental law and advocacy organization dedicated to developing solutions tailored to the unique environment of the Intermountain West. Green, the first director, and David Getches, the first chair of the board, set the mold for effective advocacy. In 2003, we became Western Resource Advocates, recognizing that there was an urgent need to shape – and drive – better conservation policy. By the end of 2019, we will be a team of nearly 60 attorneys, engineers, economists, policy experts, and committed professionals working across seven Western states.

While almost our entire WRA team, including staff and board members from around the region, traveled to the Denver Botanic Gardens to celebrate our 30 years of success, we were also joined by two former directors of WRA, Bruce Driver and Jim Martin. They and many former members of our team have gone on to lead state agencies and serve our communities across the West – and we know it’s a testament to WRA and our staff that they continue to support us and our work.

Together, we have passed hundreds of policy victories and legal wins.

  • We have saved landscapes and habitat from oil and gas development, as well as oil shale and tar sands mining. Over 2 million acres of land are protected today in Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Utah as habitat for sage grouse, cold water fisheries, and migrating species.
  • We have helped craft energy policies to increase investment in renewables by driving down cost – and creating opportunities to replace coal with wind and solar energy.
  • We have partnered with major water providers including Northern and Denver Water, helping them accelerate urban conservation and water recycling.
  • We have worked with every party with an interest on the Gunnison River to win a permanent water right in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

To make the evening even more special, we were joined by two true climate champions and two emerging leaders in conservation.

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Honoring Leaders in Conservation

We were honored to present New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham with our 2019 Leadership in Conservation Award. The award is in recognition of her work to secure New Mexico’s bold new law requiring the state’s electricity grid to be 100 percent carbon-free by 2045. This landmark clean energy legislation is showing states across the nation that it is possible to transition away from fossil fuels while creating jobs, investing in local clean energy, and reducing electricity bills.

We were also elated to have the Speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives, KC Becker, introduce Governor Lujan Grisham. Representative Becker was instrumental in passing a stunning slate of conservation bills through Colorado’s state legislature this year, including the Climate Action Plan to Reduce Pollution, which sets a goal of reducing carbon pollution in Colorado 90 percent by 2050. The measure also provides significant new incentives for electric vehicles as well as reforms to assist workers and communities impacted by the transition away from coal as a source of energy. After some lighthearted debate about which state produces the best chiles, it was encouraging to hear both women recognize the importance of regional collaboration in our efforts to address the climate crisis in the West.

WRA, our partners, and our state leaders are focused on collaborating to achieve conservation outcomes. It is central to who we are. And when it comes to our climate crisis, it couldn’t be more critical.

While it was thrilling to see two of our well-known climate champions take the stage to tell us about their continued efforts to collaboratively decarbonize the West, it was also a night to celebrate our future leaders. WRA created our Emerging Leader Award to recognize the importance of encouraging and supporting the next generation of conservation leaders. Our Emerging Leader Award recognizes young people under the age of 35 who are doing exemplary work to advance conservation in the Interior West. We presented Andrew Pappas, state and local policy manager for the Outdoor Industry Association, and Jeremy Romero, regional connectivity coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation in New Mexico, with that honor. Both of these leaders are using their passion for the outdoors and their talent as advocates to protect the land they love.

We thank Governor Lujan Grisham, Speaker Becker, Andrew Pappas, Jeremy Romero, and all of our partners for joining us on a historic night in WRA’s continuing efforts to protect the West.

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The Next 30 Years

In the last 30 years, we have learned a lot. We’ve learned that even when we win, those victories will be challenged, especially at the federal level. So we need forward-thinking state policies that ensure we protect landscapes, habitat, wildlife, and the vibrant communities and wide-open spaces we cherish here in the West.

And we’ve learned that, in the absence of federal leadership, we can lead right here at home.

WRA has been – and continues to be – at the center of this work in the Intermountain West. And – whether you are with us as a partner, a donor, an action-taker, or if you provide support in another way – you have been part of these victories.

We are not done. Not even close. There is so much work to do.

Our field – and our organization – do not adequately reflect the richness of the communities we’re working in. Not in terms of race or ethnicity. And not in terms of socio-economic background. If we wish to win, if we wish to ensure that those victories address the needs of all in our communities, and if we wish make those wins durable and just, we must ensure that the solutions we advance are inclusive and benefit all who live here.  We are committed to doing that.

Progress will require strategic partners and strong leaders. It will take forward-thinking policies.

So what do the next 30 years hold for WRA and our work in the West? Our vision is a West where:

  • Our homes, buildings and transportation systems will be powered by clean energy. The West will prosper in a zero-carbon economy.
  • Western rivers and lakes will have abundant clean water to support habitat for fish and wildlife, communities and agriculture, and world-class recreational opportunities. The Colorado River will flow to the sea.
  • Half of Western landscapes and habitat will be protected and connected to support thriving wildlife populations and unparalleled opportunities to enjoy the West’s natural beauty.
  • The West will have clean air and clean water to support healthy communities and vital habitat.

As cities and states prepare for a drier future, we will ensure the right policies are in place so that our rivers and environment don’t bear the burden of a drier climate.

We will ensure that the states in our region continue to find that protecting and conserving and providing access to lands pays dividends for the economy and for future generations.

And we will keep up the pressure at every level of government to protect our air – for our health, and so our mountains, parks, and magnificent landscapes don’t become choked by smog.

The last 30 years have shown that we have the brains and talent and tenacity to stand up to the challenges we face and to provide solutions that last. And with you working with us, we will get it done.

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