At least 12 of Colorado’s 64 counties have weighed in on the highly contentious issue of whether the state should take over control of federal lands within its borders, with opponents of such a transfer outnumbering proponents 3 to 1.
Viewed as a largely symbolic debate, since transfer of public lands would take an act of Congress, the battle nevertheless is being waged in state legislatures across the West, where millions of acres of federal lands are managed by either the Bureau of Land Management or the U.S. Forest Service in 13 states. More than a third of Colorado is publically owned.
Colorado’s Park County became the latest county to oppose any sort of sale or transfer of federal lands to state control, according to the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. It joins San Juan, San Miguel, Ouray, La Plata, Summit, Pitkin, Boulder and Eagle counties. Montezuma, Mesa and Montrose counties support transfer to the state.
“Park County is cherished for its top-notch fisheries, beautiful open landscapes, and exceptional wildlife habitat,” said Nick Payne, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s Colorado field representative. “There’s no doubt that the county is doing the right thing for its residents, and all Americans, by supporting one of our nation’s greatest treasures — our public lands.”
Backers of state control largely want more power to extract natural resources such as hard-rock minerals, oil and gas and timber, while opponents say states won’t adequately conserve wild places and protect wildlife, especially without federal funding to properly manage the lands.
Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump told Field & Steam he opposes such a transfer because states might be forced to sell off chunks of land to private developers, but he’s also railed against “draconian” federal control that limits grazing, logging and mining. Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton wants to phase out fossil-fuel extraction on federal lands.
Eagle County passed a resolution last year calling for the status quo.
“We believe that management of our federal public lands and wildlife via long-established collaborative approaches in which federal public land management agencies cooperate with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Eagle County officials and the community are more likely to produce effective management than would ownership or management of federal public lands by the state of Colorado,” the 2015 Eagle County resolution states.
“Eagle County … supports continued federal land ownership and management in Eagle County, and the irreplaceable value these public lands bring to our county’s economy, recreation, heritage and quality of life,” the resolution adds.
The Montezuma County Board of Commissioners has been outspoken in its support for land transfer, including making a $1,000 donation in 2015 to the American Lands Council, a nonprofit organization dedicated to state and private takeover of America’s public lands.
The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and a dozen other hunting, fishing and business organizations sent a letter to Montezuma County Commissioners on Thursday asking the board to reverse its position on public lands transfer.
State control of public lands was a campaign issue in 2014 when Democrat Kerry Donovan, who’s currently pushing a Public Lands Day bill, beat Republican Don Suppes for the sprawling state Senate district seat that includes Eagle County.
“It’s just over and over the federal government’s trying to come after us, and all I’ve said is we should look into it so we at least have a voice as to what’s going on on our public lands, because if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu,” said Orchard City Mayor Suppes, who advocates considering the agenda of the American Lands Council. The group has been linked by the left to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), with funding from Koch Industries and other major energy-industry donors.