Vail Daily column: We mustn’t gamble with our heritage
Growing up on the Western Slope, some of my favorite memories are of riding my horse in the White River National Forest. In Colorado, our way of life depends on being able to go out and enjoy the mountains, rivers and forests that make our state so unique. Tourists flock to our state each year to experience the natural beauty and outdoor lifestyle that we as Coloradans are fortunate enough to experience every day, and whether it’s skiing, hunting, rafting or fly-fishing; all of the activities that come to mind when you think of Colorado depend on our 23 million acres of public lands being accessible.
Residents from across the state agree that public lands are part of our shared heritage. These lands are managed by the federal government with a balanced eye on allowing multiple uses while also providing protections for our most treasured places. Down here at the state Capitol, there has been talk of seizing these public lands and transferring them to be under jurisdiction of the state — an idea that sounds good until you learn about the ramifications of such a transfer.
Out of necessity, state trust lands are managed in order to maximize revenue generation. Add to the picture a state budget which is seriously constrained due to the limits of TABOR. Now, we consider transferring 23 million acres to the state government. This would add a huge, unfunded expense that would have to be paid for, budgeted and staffed. If these land transfer proposals are approved, Colorado would need to come up with extra cash to be able to support these places. Whether by mandate or by necessity, revenue would become a driver in land management decisions; and in a state that requires a balanced budget, the economic stress imposed by a public land transfer may make anything less than opening these lands to development unrealistic.
The legislation introduced this session by the majority in the Senate to transfer public lands to the state is drafted by a think tank in Washington, D.C., and is driven by an extreme ideology that is at odds with our Colorado values. Public lands support our way of life and form the backbone of some of our key industries.
During this session, I introduced a bill with Sen. Ellen Roberts (R-Durango) which gives local governments a seat at the table when federal agencies make land management decisions. In contrast to the unrealistic, ideologically-driven legislation drafted by D.C. think-tanks, this is a good-faith effort in providing our localities a voice in local land management issues without risking our environment or our pocketbooks. This legislation has received broad support from my colleagues on both sides of the aisle.
The majority of Coloradans support the conservation of our state’s special places, and it is absolutely critical that we ensure access to these places for generations to come. Land transfer proposals introduce uncertainty, gamble with our heritage and put a valuable resource at risk. That is not a risk that we can afford to take.
Kerry Donovan, of Vail, represents District 5, which includes Eagle County, in the Colorado Senate.
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