I spent a little over a year as a Colorado resident and continue to hunt there most every fall. My first elk hunt took place in the Weminuche Wilderness.
Colorado is a special place to me, but the “colorful” state has a dark pseudo-secret. I say pseudo-secret because it isn’t really a secret at all. This info is public domain but many have no idea. Despite being a utopian mecca for hunters, anglers, mountain bikers, skiers and hikers, its state trust land public access is among the very worst in the West. Historically, state trust land was largely off limits to public access, but as population boomed and access elsewhere declined, citizenry demand for multiple use management and access on state trust land grew. Brought to the table largely by efforts of hunters and anglers, in 1992 the State Land Board struck a deal, agreeing to provide public access to, and manage for multiple use, 50% of Colorado’s state trust lands (~1.5 million acres). However, private interest driven opposition has stuck the truck the mud, and they’re in 2-wheel drive, gunning it.
Twenty-four years later, a bit less than 20 percent (~485,000 acres) of Colorado’s state trust lands are open to the general public, via a lease funded by hunter and angler license fees. Outfitters, clubs and individuals control recreational access on 5% of the remaining 80%. Agricultural interests lease the majority of the remaining 75%.
Fun fact: These for-profit leases are not exclusive to for-profit business endeavors. These entities control recreation on these lands as well! Hundreds of thousands of acres of state owned, prime hunting and fishing habitat under the lock and key of private business interests. Coloradans can drive by these “closed to recreation” leased lands and watch the key holders, or the people they sold access to, hunting, fishing and biking!
Another fun fact: Many of the “closed” lands are not clearly marked as such, so well meaning folks can very easily be misled to believe that these are open to the public – an understandable assumption considering state lands are open to the public in every other Western state. If someone were to make this mistake, and he is found on these lands, he may be ticketed for “trespassing on private land” and face thousands of dollars in fines and loss of hunting and fishing privileges.
On March 9th at 9 a.m. the Colorado State Land Board held an open meeting to discuss its various lease programs, including the future of “Public Access Program.” What a dumpster fire. Board Vice Chairman Buck Blessing called for a reduction in leased lands, calling them “impaired,” further advocating for “exclusive” use, by – you guessed it – agricultural interests. Fellow board member Robert Bledsoe is a rancher and farmer. Profiles of the full board can be found here. No one on the board lists “hunter” or “angler” in their bio.
I’m pro rancher and pro small business. I’m a small business owner and buy all of my cow, pig and chicken from a local ranch. I understand the local economic benefit. I also understand the economic benefit the state of Colorado enjoys from outdoor recreation, but it doesn’t appear that we, or any of the non-hunting users, have someone who is part of the good ol’ boys club.
Want to give yourself nightmares? Imagine that millions of acres of our public land are given to the state of Colorado to manage. When land is controlled by the state of Colorado the public loses. We lose access. We lose our voice in habitat and wildlife management. We lose our public land heritage. We lose our identity.
Pro-land transfer = No Vote.