Rocky Mountain Chapter Honors Rep. David Skaggs

by Barry Satlow, Chapter Awards Chair, and Kirk Cunningham, Chapter Conservation Chair

Last fall the Sierra Club gave its highest Colorado honor, the Columbine Award, to U.S. Rep. David Skaggs of Boulder. The Rocky Mountain Chapter has given the award only twice before, to former Sen. Tim Wirth of Colorado, Skaggs’ predecessor in the Second Congressional District (Boulder-Adams-Jefferson Counties) seat, and to longtime chapter leader John Wade. Skaggs was previously honored with the Niwot Award, presented by the Indian Peaks Group.

During his six terms in Congress, Skaggs grew into the leading public voice for the environment in Colorado. Skaggs’ career as an environmentally progressive legislator began in 1981 in the Colorado House of Representatives, where he rose to House minority leader.

Skaggs’ first major accomplishment was as a sponsor of 1988 amendments to the 1990 Clean Air Act re-authorization bill that established high-elevation emission requirements for automobiles, to reduce Colorado’s Front Range air pollution. In 1991 Skaggs was appointed to the House Appropriations Committee, a vital position of influence on Western public lands issues. He was appointed to the Interior and Related Agencies Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee in 1993. In the Interior Subcommittee Skaggs:

• fought for greater outlays from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to purchase and/or protect sensitive lands not in the federal system, for example, by buying in-holdings in Colorado wilderness areas, buying out the proposed gold mine adjacent to Yellowstone National Park, purchasing old growth coastal redwood groves in the Headwaters Forest in California and putting extra money into the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service budget to enforce the Migratory Bird Treaty by controlling uncovered pits, ponds and lagoons used for oil and gas operations;

• fought for a continuing moratorium on patenting mining claims (purchase of land for mining at a few dollars an acre);

• got a $6 million grant in 1997 to carry out a collaborative study of Preble’s meadow jumping mouse habitat along the Front Range;

• obtained increased funding for federal energy conservation programs;

• championed funding for alternative transportation projects in Colorado, including light rail and HOV lanes.

Skaggs consistently voted for maintaining or strengthening the Endangered Species Act. However, his greatest strength has been in public lands protection through wilderness designation and other methods. He was the lead sponsor of the North St. Vrain Creek Protection Act for more than a decade, until it finally passed as part of an Omnibus Parks Bill in 1996. In 1993 he took over management of the Colorado Wilderness Bill from Tim Wirth, who had retired, and got it passed. For the past six years he has introduced and fought for a bill to protect 90% of Rocky Mountain National Park as wilderness. He has complemented that effort with legislation to give the Park Service, rather than the FAA, the authority to regulate scenic overflights of Rocky Mountain National Park; that legislation passed as part of a larger bill to regulate overflights in the National Park system.

In the last session of Congress, Skaggs sponsored two wilderness bills in addition to the Rocky Mountain National Park wilderness bill, which got lost in the rush to adjourn: the Spanish Peaks Wilderness Bill of 1997, which he co-sponsored with Rep. Scott McInnis and which passed the House unanimously but was not introduced in the Senate (but may pass this year), and the Northern Colorado Headwaters Wilderness Bill of 1998 (also known as the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest Wilderness Bill). Although Skaggs could not bring these bills home, they will make an excellent starting point for his successor. Finally, Skaggs was a loyal and strong supporter of two important wilderness efforts in Congress: to protect the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and 5.7 million acres of Utah BLM land as wilderness.