DENVER – After heated political wrangling over a seemingly simple bill to create a Public Land’s Day in Colorado, lawmakers finally agreed to set a date.
The third Saturday in May would be a day for Coloradans to celebrate the state’s 24 million acres of national public lands.
Lawmakers sent the bill on Friday night to Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is expected to sign it.
“This was supposed to be about celebration, and talking about how much public lands contribute to the Colorado way of life,” said Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, who spearheaded the effort.
The bill – introduced Jan. 13, the first day of the legislative session – was constantly overshadowed by discourse over federal management of public lands.
A recent standoff in Oregon, where a group occupied a federal wildlife refuge headquarters protesting federal lands policies, highlighted the tensions and frustrations surrounding the debate.
One side tends to follow messaging from a movement known as the new “Sagebrush Rebellion,” a resurgence of the effort in the 1970s to force the federal government to give more control of government-owned Western lands to the states.
First the bill was amended by Republicans to state: “Coloradans are too often not adequately represented in the adjudication and settlement of federal regulatory issues, resulting too often in ‘sweetheart’ consent decrees.”
Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, worked on a compromise amendment in the Senate, which eliminated the “sweetheart consent decrees” language.
But Democrats felt that went too far, so they amended the bill to state: “It is imperative to encourage effective cooperative and collaborative engagement among counties, municipalities, the state and federal land management agencies.”
With the Republican-controlled Senate at odds with the Democratic-controlled House over the bill, lawmakers met in a conference committee to work on a compromise. In the end, they stripped the bill down to its original intent, which was to create a Public Land’s Day.
“It shows the passion that we have about our public lands,” Donovan said of the long debate. “I didn’t want the declarative language to become a political battleground.”
Environmental groups praised the Legislature for not including the federal admonishment.
“Coloradans want to celebrate, not seize our national public lands,” said Scott Braden, wilderness and public lands advocate for Conservation Colorado. “We have no patience for extremist attempts to privatize or undermine our shared outdoor heritage.”