Advocate for Your Open Space

DSC_0322By Stacie Gilmore

How much? How much pollution beyond pesticides, chemical warfare agents, and incendiary munitions, including Sarin nerve agent and mixes of hydrazine rocket fuels, does a community need to be saddled with before the powers that be will recognize that any slice of nature will benefit wildlife, and more importantly, benefit the people who have been negatively impacted by living next to such a highly toxic site it was designated by the EPA a Superfund site? How many acres does it take for the powers that be to decide birds, mice, spiders, snakes, rabbits, raccoons, foxes, and a variety of other wildlife deserve improved shelter, food, and water to survive and thrive? Half an acre, two, 4.5, or hundreds, thousands? How many? How many children will grow up without a connection to wildlife close to their homes, if they do not have living examples in their own communities? It will always be the “thing” [nature] that exists “out there” not in my own community. My community and the one I serve, Montbello, was good enough to be neighbors with a Superfund site, that produced pesticides and nerve gas, yet my community is not good enough to have a slice of nature, a 4.5 acre restored shortgrass prairie. I ask you why?

In Colorado, the Attorney General, the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), and the Executive Director of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) or their delegates (Colorado Parks and Wildlife) serve as the Natural Resource Damages Trustees (Trustees). They are responsible for acting on behalf of the public when Colorado’s natural resources are injured or destroyed as a result of an oil spill or release of hazardous substances. Are they acting on behalf of the people of Montbello?

In both Consent Decree’s between Shell Oil Company, the U.S. Army, and the State of Colorado, natural resources are defined as, “land, fish, wildlife, biota, air, ground water, drinking water supplies and other such resources belonging to, managed by, held in trust by, appertaining to, or otherwise controlled by the State of Colorado.  The mission of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is to protect and improve the health of Colorado’s people and the quality of its environment.  The mission of Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), the state agency responsible for wildlife management, is “To perpetuate the wildlife resources of the state …and provide enjoyable and sustainable outdoor recreation opportunities that educate and inspire current and future generations to serve as active stewards of Colorado’s natural resources”. Within the application for CPW’s Wildlife Habitat Protection Program, they do not suggest, or include specific acreage required to provide benefits to wildlife; a follow-up phone call to the Land Protection Specialist listed on the application confirms that there is no set minimum acreage required for a site to provide benefits to wildlife. For over 40 years, national organizations, such as the National Wildlife Federation, through its Community Wildlife Habitat™ program, has engaged neighborhoods, towns, cities, counties, and others in creating wildlife-friendly landscapes to improve air and water quality, restore vital wildlife habitat and improve the health and well-being of inhabitants—one property at a time. Again, they do not specifically identify a minimum acreage needed to provide benefits to wildlife and other natural resources.

Whose subjective opinion matters in deeming if a site has wildlife benefit, when there are likely biases and possible stereotypes at play in deciding if a low-income community of color deserves to have an open space amenity in walkable distance, and one within a mile of the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge?  In 2006, a group of federal, state, city and county elected officials established through a Cooperative Agreement an inter-jurisdictional partnership known as – the Northeast Greenway Corridor Leadership Committee – to restore, develop, and preserve a “world-class, urban greenway and open space network” for the preservation of a “system of stream and river corridors, riparian ecosystems, wildlife movement routes, and recreational trails by establishing an integrated greenway corridor and open space network across jurisdictional boundaries.”

In the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Natural Resource Damages Project Evaluation Criteria, there has been systematic exclusion (unintentional or intentional, it’s hard to say) of the Montbello community through a very subjective assertion that the Montbello Open Space site does not meet the screening criteria for project qualification requirements that projects should be located in the vicinity of the Rocky Mountain Arsenal (we do meet this as we are one mile directly south of the Arsenal); should have direct benefit to ecological resources associated with the South Platte River Basin along the Front Range, OR otherwise provide clear benefits to the same natural resources that were injured at the site (restoration to a shortgrass prairie, where there is already proof of wildlife utilizing the Montbello site).  That is, projects must have a clear geographical or ecological nexus to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal. Projects with a high degree of geographical and ecological connection to the site will be preferred over projects that do not have such a connection. There are $27.4 million dollars for the Natural Resource Damage Fund – Foundation and Recovery; the Montbello Open Space is asking for 3.5% of these funds, for a total request of $970,181.

Although the Montbello Open Space project is not located in the traditional, exclusive and privileged view of mountain, river, or riparian wildlife habitat that the powers that be would want to personally recreate in, for my Montbello community, I believe we deserve an open space with wildlife habitat to encourage expanded wildlife education and viewing experiences to build the next generation of stewards and to start to heal the environmental injustice that continues to reverberate today.


About the Public Comment Phase for the Montbello Open Space and Trailhead to the Refuge proposal

As a result of a 2008 settlement with the U.S. Army and Shell Oil, a natural resource damage fund was created to provide funding to natural resources restoration projects. At the present time, Colorado’s Natural Resource Trustees are in the process of allocating $27.4 million to projects that fall under this umbrella, and ELK has submitted a proposal for our current Montbello Open Space and Trailhead to the Refuge Campaign.  The projects under consideration of funding are open until June 20 for “public comment” from as many community members/leaders as possible in an effort to achieve public input in the process.

Help ELK receive a huge contribution to our Campaign efforts by participating in the public comment process.  The Fact Sheet for ELK’s projects is attached (all final and complete proposals can be found at Public comments can be sent on behalf of ELK to:

Susan Newton, Project Manager
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment
Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division
4300 Cherry Creek Drive South Denver, CO 80246