How Colorado's hunters lost 90 acres to 300 prisoners

  • Delta's prison took over this state wildlife area

    Cindy Wehling
 

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story, Colorado's prison slayer.

Tom Huerkamp's vision of the Delta Correctional Facility as a center for scientific research matches the state of Colorado's goal when it began using the site in 1964.

"The state's noble experiment," as a local newspaper called it at the time, began with 32 young inmates living at a "conservation honor camp." The camp served as a base for teams of inmates that traveled the area building trails, campgrounds and other recreational facilities.

Two decades later the state Department of Corrections decided to convert the camp to a prison; by 1991 the prison had 300 inmates and 81 employees.

Last fall, Huerkamp uncovered the 1964 lease between the Division of Wildlife and the Department of Corrections; it gave Corrections the right to use the land as an honor camp. He was amazed to find that it had not been changed to account for the minimum security prison. In response to his discovery, the two agencies hastily hammered out a new contract in late December giving Corrections unrestricted use of 91 acres in the Escalante State Wildlife Area.

But Huerkamp also discovered that some of the land at the prison site had been purchased with federal monies earned from the Pittman-Robertson Act. That 1935 law authorized an excise tax on the manufacturers of firearms and ammunition, with the money going toward the purchase of wildlife lands. Huerkamp then called in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The agency said last February that 13 acres of the prison site had been purchased with Pittman-Robertson dollars, with the remaining 77 acres bought with state funds also earmarked specifically for wildlife. The state Division of Wildlife had "lost control of the property," the agency concluded, and had to make amends to the state's hunters or forfeit its annual allocation of Pittman-Robertson funds - estimated at $11 million for 1995 alone.

A Memorandum of Agreement between Fish and Wildlife Service and the Division of Wildlife, signed March 6, gives the state a year to come up with a solution while still collecting its Pittman-Robertson funds. The Department of Corrections says it wants to give the Division of Wildlife land in exchange for the prison site. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official says the value of the compensation, whether in land or money, depends on a legal opinion from the U.S. Solicitor General, who will look at the issue later this year, following a state appraisal of the property.

Huerkamp thinks the compensation should be based on the 30 years the prison has occupied the site.

On other environmental fronts, he has called in the Army Corps of Engineers to investigate whether the prison has invaded wetlands. And he uncovered state health records showing that the prison's sewage ponds have frequently leaked unhealthful levels of pollution into Robideau Creek. Finally, he found an unauthorized, unlined landfill on the site that had been used by the county.

He concludes from all this that the Department of Corrections sees itself above the law. "They don't play by nobody's rules."

Huerkamp says the agency's power doesn't intimidate him, and he won't back down until it is held accountable for its actions. "They put their pants on one leg at a time, just like you and me."

High Country News Classifieds
  • ELLIE SAYS IT'S SAFE! A GUIDE DOG'S JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE
    by Don Hagedorn. A story of how lives of the visually impaired are improved through the love and courage of guide dogs. Available on Amazon.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY
    All positions available: Sales Representative, Accountant and Administrative Assistant. As part of our expansion program, our University is looking for part time work from home...
  • COMMUNICATIONS ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Position Title: Communications Associate Director Location: Flexible within the Western U.S., Durango, CO preferred Position reports to: Senior Communications Director The Conservation Lands Foundation (CLF)...
  • HISTORIC HOTEL & CAFE
    For Sale, 600k, Centennial Wyoming, 6 suites plus 2 bed, 2 bath apartment. www.themountainviewhotel.com Make this your home or buy a turn key hotel [email protected]il.com
  • MAJOR GIFTS OFFICER
    High Country News, an award-winning news organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Major Gifts Officer to join our...
  • RUBY, ARIZONA CARETAKER
    S. Az ghost town seeking full-time caretaker. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • VICE PRESIDENT, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION
    Basic Summary: The Vice President for Landscape Conservation is based in the Washington, D.C., headquarters and oversees Defenders' work to promote landscape-scale wildlife conservation, focusing...
  • BRISTOL BAY PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Seeking a program director responsible for developing and implementing all aspects of the Alaska Chapter's priority strategy for conservation in the Bristol Bay region of...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The National Bighorn Sheep Center is looking for an Executive Director to take us forward into the new decade with continued strong leadership and vision:...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Powder Basin Watershed Council, based in Baker City, Oregon, seeks a new Executive Director with a passion for rural communities, water, and working lands....
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Powder River Basin Resource Council, a progressive non-profit conservation organization based in Sheridan, Wyoming, seeks an Executive Director, preferably with grassroots organizing experience, excellent communication...
  • ADOBE HOME
    Passive solar adobe home in high desert of central New Mexico. Located on a 10,000 acre cattle ranch.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eastern Nevada Landscape Coalition, based in Ely, Nevada is looking for a new executive director to replace the long-time executive director who is retiring at...
  • STEVE HARRIS, EXPERIENCED PUBLIC LANDS/ENVIRONMENTAL ATTORNEY
    Comment Letters - Admin Appeals - Federal & State Litigation - FOIA -
  • LISA MACKEY PHOTOGRAPHY
    Fine Art Gicle Printing. Photo papers, fine art papers, canvas. Widths up to 44". Art printing by an artist.
  • LOG HOME IN THE GILA WILDERNESS
    Beautiful hand built log home in the heart of the Gila Wilderness on five acres. Please email for PDF of pictures and a full description.
  • CARETAKER
    2.0 acre homestead needing year-round caretaker in NE Oregon. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • SEEKING PROPERTY FOR BISON HERD
    Seeking additional properties for a herd of 1,000 AUM minimum. Interested in partnering with landowners looking to engage in commercial and/or conservation bison ranching. Location...
  • COPPER STAIN: ASARCO'S LEGACY IN EL PASO
    Tales from scores of ex-employees unearth the human costs of an economy that runs on copper.