As the state legislature enters the home stretch, lawmakers recently debated a controversial measure to study whether to transfer federal lands to the state. Another bill aimed at relieving congestion on interstate 70 heading through the mountains also became contentious. Bente Birkeland looks at both proposals as part of our capitol conversation series.
A measure to study whether Colorado should take control of federal public lands cleared its first committee at the capitol on Thursday. Senate bill 232 would set up a study to look at transferring the more than 20 million acres of federal land to the state.
“Our national forest has been mismanaged, would state control make a difference? This is about finding answers, to see what works best,” said Senator Jerry Sonnenberg (R- Sterling).
He’s sponsoring the proposal. It would task 15 county commissioners from across Colorado with analyzing the idea and bringing recommendations to the state legislature next year.
“This is, how do you manage better? This is not trying to be the federal government,” said Garfield county commissioner John Martin. He testified in support of the bill before the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee. “Give us a chance to give you some recommendations and we’ll live with the answer, everyone will.”
But opponents said the idea is so far-fetched. Any action to take over federal lands would require congressional approval. They also object to the make-up of the study team, since only county commissioners would be making recommendations.
“There are no stakeholders or user groups, they should include groups that depend on public lands for their livelihoods and groups that enjoy the amenities that federal public lands offer, cattleman, hunters, anglers, recreation user groups,” said Anne Rickenbaugh with Colorado Wild Public Lands Inc.
Others said it could be a slippery slope to the state leasing lands.
“I hope it’s not the first step to find a means to dispose of public lands for profit,” said John Singletary. He is a former chairman of the Colorado’s Parks and Wildlife Commission. “It’s just frightening for me to see this direction taken.”
Senator Ellen Roberts (R-Durango) was the swing vote on the committee. She ultimately voted for it, saying a lot of people in her district want to see this type of study.
“I would be turning a deaf ear if I did not support this. I would be turning a deaf ear to a number of my county commissioners and constituents,” said Roberts.
The bill passed along party lines with no Democratic support. It next heads to the Senate floor for further debate. It’s expected to face an uphill battle in the Democratic controlled House.