As a big-game hunter who (like over 90 percent of Colorado sportsmen) hunts public lands, the recent push by some elected officials and big-industry groups to transfer our federal public lands to state ownership, or to sell them off outright to private interests, is more than a little troubling.
Recently, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a budget engineered by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) that supports selling “unneeded acreage” of federal land on the open market. And here in Colorado, legislation sponsored by Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg (R) and Sen. Scott Renfroe (R) is aimed at “transferring” our federal lands to the state. These are lands that were set aside “for the greatest good of the greatest number for the longest time,” as Gifford Pinchot, first director of the United States Forest Service, said.
And all such proposals are bad for sportsmen, bad for wildlife, and bad for anyone who recreates on public lands. Transferring public lands to states would mean less hunting and fishing opportunities for the average American, because:
• State lands are managed to return the highest possible yield to their school trusts. That means wildlife and recreational considerations are left off the table in many states.
• In Wyoming, you are not allowed to camp on state lands. At all.
• In Arizona, you can only camp on state land for 14 days per year.
• In Montana, you can only camp on state land for two days before having to move.
Currently, in Colorado, only 20 percent of state lands are open to public use (access paid entirely by sportsmen through hunting license and gun sales), while the other 80 percent are leased out to the highest bidder. Whereas our federal public lands are managed for multiple uses, State lands are managed for the highest yielding use/income.
You have no right to access state lands like you do federal public lands, which are owned by all Americans. Article 9 of the Colorado Constitution mandates that state lands be managed to generate revenue. Yet, the Constitution mentions nothing about public access. Thus, unless the constitution is revised, recreational access on state land will remain a pay-to-play game.
In addition, 74 percent of Coloradans are opposed to the selling public lands (2014 State of the Rockies Poll). And it’s frankly a slap in the face to the 92 percent of Coloradan hunters who use our public lands.
America’s tradition of allowing public lands access for hunting, angling and other recreation is the epitome of our unique and successful North American Model of natural resource/wildlife management. And for most of us public lands are the only lands we will ever own. That’s why these proposals can’t be shot down fast enough.
David A. Lien
Chairman, Colorado Backcountry Hunters & Anglers