Garfield balks at taking over public property

Garfield County commissioners have decided against joining a group seeking transfer of federal lands to states, at least for now, based on their reservations about the concept.

Commissioners on Monday balked at the idea of joining the American Lands Council after Garfield County Attorney Frank Hutfless warned against membership in a group that has a philosophy not entirely aligning with the county’s.

“If you are a member of a dues-paying member, then essentially you are consenting to allowing that organization to speak for you,” he advised commissioners.

Commissioners decided to hold off on joining for now and keep an eye on Mesa County’s experiences as a member.

Mesa County joined the group after commissioners Rose Pugliese and John Justman attended one of its meetings in October. Pugliese last week asked Garfield commissioners to consider joining as well, at a cost of about $1,000.

Garfield commissioners have voiced support for the council’s mission in principle. But they have some reservations about its actual application, especially in Colorado.

Garfield Commissioner Tom Jankovsky on Monday reiterated his concern that if federal lands in Colorado were transferred to the state, their management and fate could end up in the hands of voters through ballot initiatives to amend the state Constitution.

“Instead of having direction from Washington, D.C., we might have direction at the ballot on things that could affect us,” he said.

Commissioner Mike Samson worried Monday whether the state might sell off federal lands if they end up in its hands. Pugliese has voiced that same concern, but both Mesa and Garfield commissioners have said there’s value in belonging to the council just to gain more information on the issue.

But Garfield commissioners backed off the idea of joining based on the advice from Hutfless, who also pointed to advances “at the diplomatic levels” the county has been making with the federal government on the issue of RS 2477 routes. The county has been identifying and erecting signs to mark historic public access routes based on rights granted by Revised Statute 2477, passed by Congress in the 1800s. It has praised the Bureau of Land Management’s Grand Junction Field Office for being willing to rethink proposals to close a number of routes in the county as that office works on a resource management plan.

In a news release Monday on the issue of federal lands transfers, the Colorado Wildlife Federation and National Wildlife Federation argued in favor of keeping “public lands in public hands.”

“We are concerned that if states end up with control of national public lands they wouldn’t have adequate resources to manage them and some of the country’s best fish and wildlife habitat and greatest landscapes would be sold to the highest bidders,” they said.

The groups are concerned in part by a measure in the Colorado legislature, Senate Bill 39, that would claim concurrent state jurisdiction over federal lands. Principally sponsored by Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, the measure states that it’s needed in part to coordinate a response to Colorado’s “severe and growing wildfire threat.”


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