The fact that public land seizure bills were seriously considered in this year’s Colorado Assembly perplexed many Coloradans, us among them. Why would legislators in the state of Colorado, home of the Maroon Bells, Dinosaur National Monument, and Pike’s Peak join the movement to fence off our public lands and potentially open them up to private development?
As previously detailed, in 2015 we saw a series of bills that, if passed, would have threatened our access to our natural inheritance by transferring them to state control, and state lands are closed to public access.
This just doesn’t add up, right? A state that has a proud outdoor heritage and lucrative tourism and recreation economies would seem to have little reason to jeopardize the quality of its public lands.
The answer is that public land seizure is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Through some creative PR maneuvering, public land seizure proponents have managed to establish a false premise. They paint the issue as one about states’ rights and have even said that they are in fact trying to preserve the environment by seizing what they characterize as badly mismanaged public lands.
SB 232, which would have wasted time and local taxpayers’ dollars to study public land seizure (which other states have already wasted millions of taxpayer dollars to do), was continuously sold as an innocuous initiative to “see if this was a good idea.”
SB 39, which would have begun the seizure process, was marketed as “coordination” between local and federal agencies to allegedly protect against wildfires.
Unfortunately for this spin-doctoring enterprise, the wolf is gnawing its way out of its sheep costume.
Public land seizure has never been about anything but private profit at the public’s expense, and this is becoming increasingly evident as its advocates, sometimes unwittingly, make their aims clear.
Take, for example, the Colorado Senate GOP’s recent tweet urging more extraction on public lands. Or consider Presidential candidate Rand Paul’s recent admonition to make public land available for private development, in a nod to infamous scofflaw, freeloading rancher Cliven Bundy’s self-serving anti-government ideology.
These instances reveal in sharp relief what has been true all along; the out-of-state special interests pushing public land seizure intend to lock us out of our lands and sell them off or otherwise reserve them for private development, including extractive industries.
This is about making private profit off our public lands and nothing else.
To add insult to injury, these wolves in sheep’s clothing are hoodwinking not just state legislators, but county commissioners who are spending taxpayer money on this costly, wasteful idea.
Three Colorado counties (Mesa, Montrose, & Montezuma) have already spent thousands of their taxpayers’ dollars to become members of the American Lands Council — the Utah-based lobbying group devoted to spreading the public land seizure agenda — that’s now being charged with fraud and corruption.
But even if public land seizure were implemented, these counties and all of Colorado — especially rural and Western Slope communities — would suffer greatly from the shock to our tourism and recreation economies and the massive costs of management and wildfires.
Instead, these county commissioners and some state legislators are gullibly being led on a fool’s errand, wasting time and taxpayer resources instead of tackling the very real problems that face rural communities such as economic diversification.
Either our elected officials in Colorado are getting played by the slick messaging of these snake-oil salesmen, or they’re trying to play us. Regardless, we need to stand up and say enough is enough, take your hands off our public lands!