Priority Campaign 2023

Dolores River Canyon Country, Colorado

Dolores River Boating Advocates
Photo: Dolores River Boating Advocates

The Conservation Alliance harnesses the power of businesses and outdoor communities to protect North America’s cherished wild places and outdoor spaces. Through the collective strength of our membership – companies from banks to breweries and outdoor gear – we champion solutions that balance the best interests of the land and water, wildlife, and people. Since 1989, we’ve helped protect 81 million acres and 3,580 river miles, remove or halt 37 dams, purchase 21 climbing areas, and designate five marine reserves.

In 2023 and 2024, we are investing additional advocacy resources in six priority campaigns. Each campaign is focussed on natural resource conservation, adapting to a changing climate, recognizing the rights of Indigenous communities, and protecting habitat in places that are also valued for human-powered recreation. We announce our Advocacy Priority Campaigns once a year. In collaboration with our grantees, we work to identify land and water conservation opportunities that are urgent, vital, and need national attention.

Dolores River Canyon Country, Colorado

What’s at stake?

The Dolores River Canyon Country in Southwest Colorado is one of Colorado’s last wild places, spanning an area of nearly 500,000 acres of public lands and 162 river miles of stunning high-desert landscapes. This area is in need of permanent protection and has been the focus of local advocacy for the past 50 years, dating to the designation of the Dolores River as an original potential addition in the 1969 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The river and surrounding canyon country have been the bedrock of life for generations, sustaining Indigenous communities, rich biodiversity, and is home to small towns weathering the boom and bust cycles of extractive industries over the past decades. The area is facing multiple threats, including renewed mining interests, increasing risk from climate change – including drought and wildfire – and a lack of resources to sustainably manage increasing visitation. 

What’s the solution?

In order to effectively protect the land, water, and recreational resources in the region, The Conservation Alliance will be joining groups advocating for protection of the Dolores River Canyon Country landscape through a two-pronged approach: supporting legislation introduced by Senator Bennet (D-CO) that will designate a 68,000-acre National Conservation Area, and explore the potential of establishing a National Monument which will protect the remaining portions of the Dolores River and surrounding landscapes and watershed not covered by the legislation. 

About the legislation: The existing proposal for a National Conservation Area (NCA) could effectively protect 68,000 acres of the Dolores River Canyon Country. In 2022, after a collaborative stakeholder process, Senator Bennet released this legislation, which was then introduced in the House of Representatives by Congresswoman Boebert. Specifically, if passed, the legislation would create a new requirement for the Bureau of Reclamation to work with stakeholders on management of flows below the reservoir to benefit native fish and recreation within the sideboards of existing water law and allocation. While the NCA can’t solve all of the complicated issues around river flows, and would only protect a portion of the broader Dolores River Canyon Country, the legislation would be a significant step and will complement other ongoing work to protect this important area.

About the monument proposal: Since the proposed legislation does not cover the northern areas of the Dolores River corridor, additional efforts are required to protect the full breadth of geographic, recreational, cultural, and wildlife resources in this landscape. We are amplifying the voices of local leaders across the business, environmental, and recreation communities, and supporting calls for a new national monument that would permanently protect the public lands of the Dolores River Canyon Country. This call-to-action is a pragmatic step building on fifty years of efforts to conserve this area, which is home to exceptional recreation and natural resources. Designating a Dolores Canyons National Monument would drive the development of vibrant, sustainable economies by enhancing access for outdoor recreation while also safeguarding the region’s most sensitive cultural and natural resources for generations to come. Further, if there is not a viable path for the NCA legislation in Congress, a larger national monument designation that encompasses the entire Dolores River Canyon Country would also be an appropriate way to protect the entire landscape.

Who are The Conservation Alliance’s partners?

Dolores River Boating Advocates promote responsible recreational use and balanced flow management of the Dolores River, while working to protect the watershed for the health of the natural environment and the livelihood of future generations. The Conservation Alliance has been a proud supporter of Dolores River Boating Advocates since 2020.

The Colorado Wildlands Project works to protect wild public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). We are dedicated to the conservation, climate resilience and equitable management of our public lands. We rally support around wildland protection in western Colorado, collaborating with partners across the Colorado Plateau. The Conservation Alliance awarded its first grant to the Colorado Wildlands Project in 2022.