The Arkansas River is spectacular, flowing from its headwaters high in the Rockies through the protected Brown’s Canyon National Monument, and across approximately 668,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management lands near the cities of Salida, Cañon City and Pueblo as it flows eastward on its more than 1,400-mile journey to the Mississippi River.

The BLM is updating its land use plan for the Royal Gorge area to address how these lands where the Arkansas River flows will be managed for the next 20 to 30 years.

John Land Le Coq

The BLM has an opportunity to ensure that there will be adequate protection for the lands and rivers alike, including tributaries of the Arkansas.

As an avid angler and business owner whose clientele rely on the pristine condition of our public lands and rivers, I am thankful that the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission declared 102 miles of the river as Gold Medal, which is the longest stretch in state. 

I have a deep connection to and understanding of the importance of public lands and how vital they are in defining America. 

As citizens, we have the vested interest as owners of our public lands and the responsibility to maintain and support the wild species that inhabit these special places. Colorado is defined by the wildness of our open and public federal and state lands, and it is the critical link to our economic progress with the outdoor recreation sector leading the growth.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

Coloradans embrace our outdoor heritage because it helps contribute to strong communities, protects our natural environment, attracts businesses and vibrant talent and provides a spiritual connection to the soul and heartbeat of our wild landscape.

My company depends on the health and sustainability of our watersheds, and we promote the shared connection we all have to our fragile ecosystem.

At Fishpond, we call this the “Ripple Effect” — the collective impact of individuals performing in an environmentally conscious manner that leads to a lasting change-in thinking, in deeds and in results. Conservation of our natural world, including all water systems, is a shared responsibility. With each step forward — each new ripple we create — we move closer to being a country that embodies a vision for a sustainable environment. 

While the Arkansas River enjoys the Gold Medal status from the state, the BLM planning process will also vastly impact the well-being of the Arkansas River and its tributaries within the Arkansas Valley. This is why it is so important that BLM include good management for the Arkansas and its tributaries, as well as the lands through which the waters flow.

Unfortunately, despite BLM’s own findings that many of the tributaries of the Arkansas are eligible for Wild and Scenic River designation, their recently released preferred plan fails to protect this critical watershed.

The rivers found eligible in BLM’s final report are rivers and streams that are of critical conservation value for not only the Royal Gorge Field Office, but also the state of Colorado and the nation.

Rivers recognized as eligible for inclusion in the NWSRS represent some of the most socially and ecologically important river systems in the nation.

The BLM’s preferred plan would leave important perennial trout streams without adequate protection, such as North Badger Creek and Badger Creek South, a pristine trout habitat. 

Similarly, the rugged and wild public lands surrounding Badger Creek, and much of the Arkansas River just downriver such as Texas Creek, Echo Canyon, Bear Mountain and North of Cotopaxi, while recognized by BLM for their wilderness and backcountry conservation values, would not be managed for protection by BLM in their preferred plan. 

Without protection, these waters and their surrounding land will be susceptible to development, negatively impacting the watershed health and quality, and impacting the ability of fly fishermen like myself to share these waters with future generations. 

The Arkansas River is a vital lifeblood of our region’s recreation economy. How we manage its waters, tributaries and the surrounding lands will matter for generations to come.

As the BLM moves into the final plan, I urge the agency to include sound management for all eligible rivers and the land upon which they flow to ensure that the Arkansas River and its tributaries will be protected for generations to come. 

John Land Le Coq is the founder and CEO of Fishpond, a Colorado based fly fishing and outdoor recreation company. As a certified B Corporation, the company builds products and uses its profits and customers to help create a sustainable planet with clean water, healthy habitat and wild spaces for species.