On April 16 the Colorado House Education Committee killed House Bill 12-1322 on an 8-5 vote. The vote crossed party lines. The bill would have required federal public lands in Colorado that are suitable for agriculture be ceded to the State Land Board.
CWF strongly opposed the bill and CWF’s board chair, John Smeltzer, testified at the hearing. He noted that the idea to have the State Land Board manage approximately 23 million additional acres of what is now federal public lands in Colorado managed by BLM and USFS would be a dramatic change that is unwise and would be disruptive to the public’s access and enjoyment of these lands. He also stated that, “The word on the street is that this whole thing is ‘don’t worry, this bill isn’t going to pass, don’t spend your time on it. My experience is when good people bring their ideas in bills, we must testify rather than sit it out. That is how our system works.”
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, was amended at the April 16 hearing to require that Colorado’s federal public lands that are suitable for agriculture, with a few exceptions noted below, must be ceded to the State Land Board. Originally, the bill would have required disposition of these federal public lands by December 31, 2014, presumably to willing buyers. The proceeds were to be placed in an “internal improvements fund” to be used for education and water storage projects. The bill was unconstitutional because it is effectively a mandate to the US government to sell federal lands managed by BLM and US Forest Service. Exempted in the bill were national parks, private property, land held in trust by the state and land belonging to tribes. A similar bill has been signed by the Governor of Utah, and another has been killed in the Arizona legislature.
This bill was an attempt to take away public lands that are essential to Colorado’s state’s economy and quality of life. Public lands provide immense value to Colorado’s economy and quality of life. The Conservation in the West poll earlier this year found 93% of Colorado voters believe that “our national parks, forests, monuments and wildlife areas are an essential part of Colorado’s economy.” Public lands are a sustainable economic resource so long as key wildlife habitats, streams, and public access are maintained.