DENVER (AP) — A coalition representing more than 30 sportsmen’s conservation groups and outdoor industry leaders gathered Wednesday on the west steps of the state Capitol to protest attempts by some Western states to take over federally managed public lands.
The rally addressed efforts by the American Lands Council, a group founded by Utah state Rep. Ken Ivory to coordinate advocacy and lobbying for federal-to-state land transfers throughout the West, similar to Ivory’s Transfer of Public Lands Act signed into Utah law in 2012.
In the past few years, efforts by a growing fringe of state lawmakers to take over national public lands have surfaced in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming.
Yet, according to results from Colorado College’s latest annual Conservation in the West poll, more than two-thirds of voters in six Rocky Mountain states believe federally managed lands belong to all Americans and not to a particular state. And the coalition of hunting and fishing organizations anchored by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP), Backcountry Hunters and Anglers (BHA), Trout Unlimited (TU), National Wildlife Federation (NWF), Remington, Sitka and Simms, among others, echoes that sentiment with a remarkably unified voice.
“Once again, a survey of public sentiment underlines just how off-track state and congressional lawmakers are when they push to take public lands out of public hands,” said Kate Zimmerman, NWF’s public lands policy director. “Voters get it: These are America’s public lands. They belong to all of us, and we all have an obligation to take care of them and ensure our children, grandchildren and beyond enjoy the same opportunity to experience America’s great outdoor legacy.”
Although pundits maintain that the likelihood of about 640 million acres of federally managed public land spread across the West being transferred to state control remains low, several hunting and fishing groups have placed the issue at the top of their priority list.
A recent report published by BHA indicated that 69 percent of hunters in Western states rely on public lands for hunting, establishing such access as an asset far too valuable to risk.
The group joined the TRCP last month at the 2015 Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show in Las Vegas to tackle the topic and announce a national campaign designed to rally hunters and anglers to take a stand against federal land transfers.
Demonstrations similar to that in Denver have taken place recently at state capitols in Idaho, Montana and New Mexico, where crowds of 200-300 protesters called for an end to proposals making their way into various state legislatures that lay the groundwork for a takeover of public lands.
“This is a bad idea for sportsmen and for Idaho,” TRCP Northwest region field manager Cory Tigert said in Boise. “The cost of managing public lands will stress Idaho’s budget and force it to sell large tracts to private interests. Sportsmen’s access will be lost forever.”
Thus far, no bill calling for the outright transfer of Colorado’s nearly 64 million acres of federal public land has been introduced in the current legislative session. An attempt to require transfer of all “agricultural public lands” to the state died in a senate committee in 2013. Colorado Springs Republican Ken Lambert recently introduced a bill in the state senate that proposes state and federal “concurrent” jurisdiction and management on federal land.
While the ramifications of Lambert’s SB15-039 are unclear, a prevailing thought among land transfer opponents holds that the significant financial burden on states managing such large parcels of land would result in their sale to private entities and a loss of public access. Membership in Ivory’s American Lands Council — including mining construction companies, power companies and oil and gas interests that stand to benefit from such a sale — lends support to the theory.
“If Utah succeeds in taking over federal public lands, the public would have less, not more, input into land management, and all who utilize what are now public lands — industry and recreation interests alike — would see the cost of access increase substantially,” University of Utah law professors Bob Keiter and John Ruple wrote in an analysis of the Transfer of Public Lands Act. “In short, the public would suffer from this misguided effort.”
Economics aside, the potential loss of public access to public land is far more personal to many Western sportsmen.
“Our public lands access and our outdoor heritage can disappear in this lifetime,” Dan Harrison, part-owner of Colorado Mountain Adventures and co-host of Remington Country TV, told the SHOT Show audience. “Public lands are the cornerstone of our outdoor heritage. Our forefathers protected them for us — and now it’s our duty to do the same.”