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This land is your land, until it’s theirs

Ken Neubecker

The foxes running the hen house in Washington are up to their old tricks, and this time might actually succeed in seriously looting the public domain. Congressman Richard Pombo, a California Republican, snuck a late amendment into the massive budget bill passed by Congress that could, if it makes it through the Senate, sell off millions of acres of public land.

Pombo’s amendment is a thinly veiled attempt at massive real estate speculation under the guise of “updating” the archaic 1872 Mining Act. The provision would lift a moratorium on “patenting,” or buying, mining claims on public land. It would also “modernize” the price at which such lands are sold. Under the 1872 provisions, thousands of acres of public land were sold for up to $5 an acre as recently as 1994. Now the land will sell for $1,000 per acre.

Anyone patenting a claim also had to prove it up, to show that there were commercial mineral deposits and that they could be extracted profitably. Not any more.

Mr. Pombo has eliminated those pesky details for his corporate supporters. Buyers now won’t have to prove that any valuable minerals even exist on the claim. Now the land will simply be available for “sustainable economic development,” meaning real estate speculation. Mr. Pombo hasn’t made any provision for local planning in his notion of sustainable economic development. The communities, counties and states most affected by this give-away were never consulted. There was never any intent for public debate on this looting of the public domain.

Pombo has generously exempted the national parks and maybe wilderness areas from his amendment. This is the same Rep. Pombo who tried to sell off one quarter of our national parks only a couple months ago, and then brushed it off as a “joke” when faced with the outrage his actions sparked. His sense of humor hasn’t changed and now he’s trying to play another joke on the American public.

There are thousands of old mining claims in Colorado that could be snapped up at bargain rates through this provision. But don’t try to do it yourself. The general public is not invited to this fire sale.

Tremendous blocks of land in Eagle, Pitkin and Summit Counties could be sold to large mining companies who could then develop or sell the land for tremendous profit.

When is the last time you saw land for $1,000 an acre in Eagle County? This kind of abuse has occurred in the past and is one of the primary reasons Congress imposed the moratorium on patenting public lands in the first place. In 1983 a speculator did just that at Keystone, selling the land for 4,000 times the original price. The Ginn Company development above Minturn is on more than 400 patented mining claims. If Pombo’s amendment passes there could be many more “Ginnturns” in Eagle County alone.

This bill could also severely limit access to public lands. Incidents of access being denied, such as what occurred with three 14ers near Leadville last summer, would become far more frequent. There would be far less access for hiking, camping, hunting, fishing or any other recreation. This could cause a problem for our recreation- and tourist-based economy, to say the least. One of the main reasons for being here, to live or to visit, could disappear behind “No Trespassing” signs.

As the old song goes, “This land is my land, this land is your land”… unless it becomes “their” land and you and I get shut out.

Call Senators Allard and Salazar, (202) 224-3121 for the Capitol switchboard, and let them know that this Pombo “Amendment” has to be removed from the budget bill. Both senators have websites through which they can be reached as well.

This land is our land. Don’t let the foxes steal it from us. VT

Ken Neubecker writes about water and the environment for The Vail Trail. He can be reached for comment at eagleriver@eagleranch.com.


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