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Colorado to Be First State to Celebrate Public Lands

A new bill marking Public Lands Day is expected to be signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper. (Tljpatch0/Pixabay)
A new bill marking Public Lands Day is expected to be signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper. (Tljpatch0/Pixabay)
May 11, 2016

DENVER - After months of partisan conflict, Colorado is set to become the first state in the nation to officially celebrate its public lands. Senate Bill 21, now awaiting Gov. John Hickenlooper's signature, sets the third Saturday in May as Public Lands Day.

Suzanne O'Neill, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation, said the move is an opportunity to inspire young people who enjoy outdoor recreation to become stewards of wildlife habitat on lands owned by all Americans.

"This is something that we all can treasure, we can access for recreation," she said. "It contributes a huge amount to our Colorado economy, and so it's fitting and proper that we celebrate it."

The bill was introduced on the first day of the session and quickly drew the ire of some lawmakers who amended the measure to include anti-federal management sentiments. Ultimately, both sides agreed to remove language politicizing the bill and a version simply calling for the creation of a Public Lands Day cleared the General Assembly.

Aaron Kindle, western sportsmen campaign manager for the National Wildlife Federation's Rocky Mountain region, said the push for state takeover of public lands is being bankrolled by large energy and extraction companies that find federal oversight - which includes considering factors such as impact on wildlife and water quality and seeking public input - cumbersome to business. He said the majority of Coloradans want to celebrate, not seize, our public lands.

"They're just so special, really," he said. "It's a uniquely American thing. People from all over the world come here, and we just need to make sure we understand how special they are and do our part to maintain and protect them."

Kindle pointed to a recent survey by Colorado College that showed that 59 percent of residents oppose state takeover of public lands, and 77 percent say national lands are good for the state's economy. According to a 2014 report by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, outdoor recreation generates more than $34 billion in economic activity each year and creates more than 300,000 jobs.

Details of SB 21 are online at trackbill.com. The Colorado College survey is at coloradocollege.edu. The Parks and Wildlife report is at cpw.state.co.us.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO