Bennet, Gardner propose fixes to public lands issues in Colorado

By: Joey Bunch,  February 2, 2017


After the splash Utah Sen. Jason Chaffetz made when he proposed then pulled a bill to sell off 3.3 million acres of public lands in 10 Western states this week, five bills by Colorado’s senators, Democrat Michael Bennet of Denver and Republican Cory Gardner of Yuma, seem awfully local.

Bennet and Gardner announced the bills they’re working on together Thursday afternoon, less than 24 hours after Chaffetz said he had had a change of heart on the bill that could have sold off 94,000 acres in 29 Colorado counties.

The Bennet-Gardner package addresses individual projects related to water, wildlife, wildfires, adding land to Rocky Mountain National Park and adding more recreational area near Pikes Peak.

Gardner’s office described the bills this way:

– “The Bolts Ditch Access and Use Act would authorize special use of the Bolts Ditch headgate and the segment of the Bolts Ditch within the Holy Cross Wilderness Area, allowing Minturn to use its existing water right to fill Bolts Lake. This would solve a problem created in 1980 when Congress designated the Holy Cross Wilderness area, but inadvertently left Bolts Ditch off of the list of existing water facilities.

– “The Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument legislation will allow for enhanced wildfire protection as well as additional habitat for wildlife and recreational opportunities for visitors. Established as a national monument in 1969, the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument is located west of Pikes Peak and less than 40 miles from Colorado Springs. The monument is home to diverse fossil deposits, maintaining a collection of over 12,000 specimens. It also provides recreational experiences and curriculum-based education programs for its visitors. A private landowner submitted a proposal to donate 280 acres of land adjacent to Florissant Fossil Beds Monument, but due to current law the land donation cannot take place. This commonsense legislation would permit a landowner to donate private land to Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument.

– “The Wedge Act would aid the Forest Service in acquiring several parcels of land adjacent to Rocky Mountain National Park. This Act would help preserve critical wildlife habitat, Colorado River headwaters, and a highly visible view shed in the area commonly referred to as the Wedge.

– “The Crags, Colorado Land Exchange Act is a federal land exchange where the Forest Service would acquire pristine land in the Pike National Forest allowing for more outdoor recreation near Pikes Peak.

– “The Elkhorn Ranch and White River National Forest Conveyance Act would correct the discrepancy that took place from conflicting land surveys and require the Forest Service to convey acreage to private ownership that is rightfully private property, according to the Forest Service’s own conclusion and recommendation. For nearly 100 years, 148 acres of land has been used as private land even though it is included in Forest Service survey maps, and this legislation allows for the resolution between the Forest Service and the private landowner.”

“Colorado’s public lands are national treasures and I’m proud to work across the aisle to protect our state’s natural beauty,” Gardner said in an afternoon statement. “Each of these measures proposes a legislative fix that will have a lasting impact on Colorado and ensure future generations are able to enjoy Colorado’s great outdoors. I look forward to working with my colleagues to advance these bills through the legislative process.”

Bennet added, “Our public lands define Colorado and help drive our outdoor recreation economy. These bipartisan, commonsense measures will help to preserve our pristine lands, protect wildlife habitats and expand outdoor access for years to come.”

Scott Braden, the chief public lands advocate for Conservation Colorado, characterized the bills as a good start during tough times for public lands because of partisan views.

“We appreciate that our Colorado senators are engaged on public lands issues and that both have committed to keeping public lands in public hands,” he said. “But sponsorship of these small, uncontroversial bills does not offset the other bad public lands policies that Sen. Gardner is currently pursuing. If Sen. Gardner wants to truly show his support of our public lands, then he needs to stand up against the radical agenda coming out of Washington D.C. “This means voting against repealing the BLM methane rule, revoking his sponsorship for repealing the BLM’s new planning rule and rejecting any of the avalanche of other bad policy ideas for public lands that would hurt the Colorado way of life.”

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