New bill threatens access to Colorado public lands

February 07, 2017

Brent Sabati

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     Living in Colorado has many benefits, including the plethora of outdoor activities that we can enjoy.

     Many of our favorite activities, such as hiking, climbing, skiing and mountain biking, take place on public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

     When Theodore Roosevelt became president in 1901, he established 230 million acres of federally protected land. This land was to be held in trust by the federal government for use by the American people.

     A new bill, H.R. 621, proposed by Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz would have allowed the sale of certain federal lands. On Feb. 1, Chaffetz announced that he planned to withdraw the bill.

     The land that would have been affected was mostly BLM land and would have totaled 3.3 million acres across 10 states, including Colorado. Proponents for this bill argued that public lands had no monetary value; therefore, they could be sold off for profit and economic gain.

     In reality, BLM lands have produced a reported $6.6 billion in revenue from the state. Public lands produce economic value for local economies through leasing land used for grazing, mining, oil and coal production, recreational permits, timber restoration and conservation lands.

     In addition to being an economic asset, public lands have other uses as well.

     Public lands can be a key asset in the conservation of local wildlife and help preserve historical and cultural sites. They are also used heavily by hunters and fisherman as well as other outdoor enthusiasts.

     The argument that public lands could be sold because they have no monetary value is not only false, but violates the spirit of why federally protected public lands were created in the first place.

     Colorado holds 8.3 million acres of BLM public land. The sale of any amount of this land is dangerous not only because it erodes our right to natural resources, but also because it sets a precedent.

     The precedent is that the government can take away the rights given to us by generations past with just a few strokes of a pen.

     As an American citizen, it is your prerogative to make your voice heard.

     The hashtag #keepitpublic has been the rallying cry for many outdoor enthusiasts across the nation and aided in the withdrawal of this bill. Through social media, many people who care for their right public lands and want to participate in the democratic process have spread this message.

     In addition to emails and phone calls, Chaffetz received thousands of comments on his social media accounts from citizens who opposed the bill. The message was unifi ed and clear: “Down with HR 621; keep it public”.

     This movement, while limited in its scope, shows that a new factor has emerged in a prominent position in our political process. It is highly likely that without social media, the information about this bill would not have spread as quickly.

     Social media has also given the younger generation an easier method to communicate with their representatives. There is no doubt that the countless messages that Chaffetz received influenced his decision to withdraw the bill.

     Remember that social media is not just for entertainment; it is also a tool. It has the power to direct influence and create change.

     So, the next time you see something in society that concerns you, get organized, take action and work towards the future that you want.

(Editor’s note: Brent Sabati is a UCCS student who submitted a guest opion for the Feb. 7 issue of The Scribe.)