OUT: Sunday Column February 22, 2009

Some lawmakers have legislation empowering DOW in their crosshairs

When House Bill 1298 sailed through the state Legislature by a unanimous vote way back in 2007, it was hailed as an avenue to lend a voice to wildlife, wildlife habitat and the long-term economies derived from wildlife resources being impacted by energy development.

Specifically, to let the Colorado Division of Wildlife and its professional experts speak for wildlife and its adjuncts in danger of being bulldozed by the seemingly uncontrolled rampage of natural resource exploitation.

This, remember, as energy companies, riding high on the waves of the booming economy and billions of dollars of annual profit, took advantage of the Bush administration’s eagerness to hand over Colorado’s wildlands.

Now, with the economy sagging and a handful of vocal anti-wildlife legislators having second-thoughts on their earlier vote, the strength of HB 1298 and its supporters are being tested.

Legislation that would overturn or at best delay the implementation of HB 1298 already has been upended but the guileful anti-wildlife forces are hanging on like a badger to a prairie dog.

The latest attack on HB 1298 is not just anti-wildlife but virulently anti-Division of Wildlife and the provisions contained in 1298 that give the state’s wildlife agency a chance to comment on development plans.

House Bill 1255, which still festers in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee after another perplexing hearing Wednesday, would take away any authority of the DOW to comment or make recommendations on development planned for wildlife habitat.

One doesn’t have to be a legislative expert to understand what HB 1298 says, merely able to read and comprehend basic statements.

That goes unnoticed by the backers of HB 1255, including sponsor Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, and his tag-team sidekicks on the House Ag committee, Reps. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, Wes McKinley, D-Walsh and Marsha Looper, R-Calhan.

The committee hearing droned as Gardner et al paraded to the microphone landowners whose major concern seemed that of sharing their ill feelings toward the DOW and other state and federal natural resource agencies.

Not surprisingly, for anyone who’s watched our elected officials repeatedly fail to be well-informed on matters they are elected to decide, there were repeated attempts to accuse the DOW of wanting to manage private land and demand landowners abide by the division’s decisions.

HB 1298 doesn’t say this; it merely gives the DOW the ability to suggest wildlife-friendly actions to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which may or may not abide by the DOW’s recommendations.

And several pro-1298 witnesses, including Suzanne O’Neill of the sportsmen-supported Colorado Wildlife Federation, were quizzed and blamed for DOW actions past and present, another example of our inestimable representatives inability to differentiate between their targets.

Anyone listening to this committee is tempted to report the members to Operation Game Thief.

Colorado is proud to be a state where private property is exalt, and this writer supports the right of any landowner to manage his or her property to the highest good. That is, at least as long as it doesn’t negatively affect your neighbors, like building a feed lot or cell phone tower in downtown Grand Junction, for example.

If a rancher wants to bury his pastures under a spiderweb of roads and well pads, that’s his business.

But wildlife belongs to everyone, which is why the state’s sportsmen continue to support game damage payments and giving wealthy ranchers freebies including valuable hunting licenses, game-resistant fencing, signs and other goodies.

When the economy comes back, so will the drillers, and threats to the state’s water, wildlife and air again will mount.

By then, perhaps, decisions regarding the state’s wildlife will be made by a committee separate from one controlled by a bunch of anti-wildlife farmers bent on turning Colorado in to a sad mirror of Wyoming’s barren gas fields.


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