Buy land now, says Udall

  The state of Colorado is tightening its belt on land purchases, and Democratic Rep. Mark Udall wants someone to account for it.


The state's Department of Natural Resources has been discussing a moratorium on buying properties for wildlife habitat, says Greg Walcher, the department's executive director. Budget concerns drove the decision. "We decided we would take a temporary time-out on initiating new land acquisitions while we re-examine our priorities," he says.


Udall fears that the moratorium will render the agency ineligible for certain state and federal funds normally granted for land purchases. He is also concerned about a report in an agency newsletter that said the ban on habitat purchases will extend to open-space acquisitions.


"I think the ball is in (the department's) court to clarify the policy they're operating under," Udall says.


Walcher dismisses these concerns and insists the policy will apply only to habitat purchases. For those, the state is examining alternatives, such as conservation easements for future land deals. Easements are less costly, less controversial and easier to manage than outright acquisitions, say agency officials. "You get more bang for your buck," says Department of Natural Resources spokesman Todd Malmsbury.


While conservation easements are viable options in some cases, Udall replies, they are often difficult to enforce and can be almost as expensive as direct purchase of lands.


Besides, he says, a full range of tools should be available for preservation. "I don't want Colorado to take any options off the table."


*Catherine Lutz