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A bill to recognize the importance of federally-owned public lands in places like Vail, where the economy depends on those lands remaining public, was promptly dispatched to a “kill committee” by Republicans who control the Colorado Senate.
Sponsored in the House by Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, a Democrat who represents Eagle and Routt counties in the State Legislature, and in the Senate by Sen. Kerry Donovan, a Vail Democrat who also represents Eagle County, the bill would establish March 4 as “Public Lands Day.”
But it will likely die a quiet death in the State, Veterans, & Military Affairs Committee, where the controlling party typically sends doomed legislation.
Here’s the language of the public lands bill (pdf) that was introduced as the session opened up last week: “The bill designates the fourth Monday in March as ‘Public Lands Day’ to recognize the significant contributions that national public lands within Colorado make to wildlife, recreation, the economy, and to Coloradans’ quality of life.”
The bill will likely wind up being largely symbolic as Democrats look to combat a growing Republican movement to explores transferring control of federal lands in the West to state control in order to have more local say in how those lands are managed, especially as it relates to ranching, logging and mining. Democrats fear such industrial activities will adversely impact the environment and the outdoor recreation industry.
The debate is being played out with the Bundy family militia takeover in Oregon as a backdrop. The following story was produced by RealVail.com for the national website RouteFifty.com.
With roots in the Sagebrush Rebellion of the 1970s, the Bundy family militia takeover of a federal wildlife refuge in eastern Oregon has added fuel to an ongoing debate in the Colorado Legislature over state control of public lands.
Democratic lawmakers plan to offer legislation this session that supports the current system of federal management for public lands that comprise more than a third of Colorado, and that in turn will draw the ire of Republicans—some of whom sympathize with the Bundy standoff in Oregon.
State Sen. Kerry Donovan, a Democrat from Vail, told Route Fifty she’s running a bill this session to “proactively make a statement that matches the feeling of more than 70 percent of Coloradans – that we love our public lands and it’s important to our quality of life and our small businesses across Colorado to have broad access to all of our public lands.”
Colorado College’s State of the Rockies Project Conservation in the West Poll, released last week, found that 59 percent of the residents of seven Mountain West states oppose giving states control of public lands. It also found that ahead of the 2016 election, 77 percent of Coloradans say “issues involving public lands, waters, and wildlife are an important factor in deciding whether to support an elected public official.”
The long-running debate over federal land management stems from two seemingly contradictory missions: allowing extractive industry access and keeping lands pristine for outdoor recreation. Donovan’s idea of access—primarily for uses such as skiing, hiking, hunting, boating, fishing and camping—runs counter to the kind of access some Colorado Republicans are talking about.
Go to RouteFifty.com to read more.