State lands: money isn't everything

 

Pockets of land exist all over Colorado where locals hunt, hike, farm and ranch. They look like public land. But these 3 million acres of trust lands, established by the federal government in 1876, usually have one purpose - to make money for public schools. And increasingly, in these boom times, the state land board has found that selling land to subdivision developers brings in the most cash.

After growing complaints from local communities affected by sales of these lands, Colorado Gov. Roy Romer came up with a solution: Amend the state constitution to require the state land board to consider long-term stewardship in its management plans. When the Legislature wouldn't, Romer drafted a ballot initiative that would do just that as well as set aside 300,000 acres for open space and habitat protection. The group conducting the petition drive, Citizens to Save Colorado's Public Trust Lands, says the mandate to maximize revenue is no longer needed: Colorado schools currently receive less than 1 percent of their budget from the trust.

The drive to secure the 80,000 signatures needed by Aug. 5 has gained support of educators around the state. Dee Wisor, president of the Cherry Creek School District, thinks selling land to developers could actually burden the schools. "We may generate this money from the sale, but over time it will cost this same amount to educate students that will live there."

Farmers are balking at the possibility that open space protection could bounce some farmers or ranchers off the land. "I do not call them public trust lands. I think they are private trust lands. My God, we've got 35 percent of the state made up of public lands. If somebody wants open space they don't have to drive very far from Denver," says Buford Rice of the Farm Bureau.

Initiative supporters counter that the real threat to ranchers and farmers is not preservation but development.

Reeves Brown of the Colorado Cattlemen's Association agrees. Although the Cattlemen may decide to oppose the initiative, Brown says "the biggest issue is an intangible concern about change," not anything in the initiative.

Other Western states are also rethinking the management of their state trust lands. In Idaho and Oregon, environmentalists are attempting to take over some state trust lands by outbidding ranchers for grazing allotments; in the state of Washington, more than a dozen school districts just lost a lawsuit that would have forced the state to harvest trees at a faster rate on state trust lands; and in Wyoming, citizens have petitioned the state land board to renew a two-year moratorium on land trust sales that expired April 1. The moratorium was a result of the same concerns that led to the Colorado initiative.

High Country News Classifieds
  • NORTHERN NEW MEXICO PROJECT MANAGER
    Seeking qualified Northern New Mexico Project Manager to provide expertise, leadership and support to the organization by planning, cultivating, implementing and managing land conservation activities,...
  • REGIONAL TRAIL STEWARDSHIP COORDINATOR
    Are you passionate about connecting people to the outdoors? The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is looking for someone with trail maintenance and volunteer engagement...
  • TRAIL CREW MEMBER
    Position Title: Trail Crew Member Position Type: 6 month seasonal position, April 17-October 15, 2023 Location: Field-based; The RFOV office is in Carbondale, CO, and...
  • CEO BUFFALO NATIONS GRASSLANDS ALLIANCE
    Chief Executive Officer, Remote Exempt position for Buffalo Nations Grasslands Alliance is responsible for the planning and organization of BNGA's day-to-day operations
  • IDAHO DIRECTOR - WESTERN WATERSHEDS PROJECT
    Western Watersheds Project seeks an Idaho Director to continue and expand upon WWP's campaign to protect and restore public lands and wildlife in Idaho, with...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT, NA'AH ILLAHEE FUND
    Na'ah Illahee Fund (NIF) is seeking a highly qualified Development Director to join our team in supporting and furthering our mission. This position will create...
  • DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS, NA'AH ILLAHEE FUND
    Na'ah Illahee Fund (NIF) is seeking a highly qualified Operations Director to join our team. This position will provide critical organizational and systems support to...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) is seeking a leader to join our dynamic team in the long-term protection of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM). We...
  • GRASSLAND RESEARCH COORDINATOR
    The Grassland Research Coordinator is a cooperative position with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that performs and participates in and coordinates data collection for...
  • HYDROELECTRIC PLANT
    1.3 MW FERC licensed hydroelectric station near Taylorsville CA. Property is 184 deeded acres surrounded by National Forrest.
  • "PROFILES IN COURAGE: STANDING AGAINST THE WYOMING WIND"
    13 stories of extraordinary courage including HCN founder Tom Bell, PRBRC director Lynn Dickey, Liz Cheney, People of Heart Mountain, the Wind River Indian Reservation...
  • GRANT WRITER
    JOB DESCRIPTION: This Work involves the responsibility of conducting research in the procurement of Federal, State, County, and private grant funding. Additional responsibilities include identifying...
  • MATADOR RANCH STEWARD
    The Matador Ranch Steward conducts annual stewardship projects at the Matador Ranch Preserve and occasionally supports stewardship projects elsewhere in Montana's Northern Great Plains. The...
  • COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT ASSISTANT
    The Idaho Conservation League is seeking a motivated individual to help build public support for key strategic initiatives in northern Idaho through public outreach and...
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness Foundation seeks a steward/educator to lead backcountry volunteer projects and community outreach. FT $36k-$40k, competitive time off. ALSO HIRING OPERATIONS MANAGER. More...
  • ASSISTANT RANCH OPERATIONS MANAGER
    WANTED: ASSISTANT RANCH OPERATIONS MANAGER ~ UTAH/COLORADO border ~ Looking to immediately hire an experienced and clean hardworker to join us on a beautiful, very...
  • ASPIRE COLORADO SUSTAINABLE BODY AND HOME CARE PRODUCTS
    Go Bulk! Go Natural! Our products are better for you and better for the environment. Say no to single-use plastic. Made in U.S.A., by a...
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field seminars for adults in the natural and human history of the Colorado Plateau, with lodge and base camp options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • CORTEZ COLORADO LOT FOR SALE
    Historic tree-lined Montezuma Ave. Zoned Neighborhood Business. Build your dream house or business right in the heart of town. $74,000. Southwest Realty
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.