DENVER – Senate Republicans on Monday advanced legislation that is part of an effort to clarify the state’s authority over federal public lands.
The bill brought allegations of ulterior motives to advance a conservative agenda, which resulted in a stern rebuke from the legislation’s sponsor.
The measure would clarify that the state has jurisdiction over federal lands to manage emergency situations, such as wildfires.
Similar bills have failed in previous legislative sessions.
The bill this year passed the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on a party-line vote Monday and heads to the full Senate for debate. The legislation faces an uphill battle if it advances to the Democratic-controlled House.
Republican Sen. Kent Lambert of Colorado Springs introduced the bill in response to the deadly 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire, which he said could have been more quickly contained if local authorities had the authority to act.
“The federal government blocked our county sheriff in El Paso County from fighting this forest fire before it got out of hand,” Lambert said. “What’s the result? Three-hundred-fifty-six homes destroyed and two lives.”
Environmental interests pointed out that it is not the first effort this year from Republicans to express grievances with regulation over federal lands.
Opponents call it rhetoric and say it could lead to a push to transfer management of all federal lands to the states, which they say would result in mismanagement.
Another bill moving through the Legislature would establish a public land’s day in Colorado. Environmental interests expressed concerns with the bill after it was amended by Republicans to encourage the federal government to reform its regulatory practices.
Cries have grown louder nationwide following a recent standoff in Oregon, where a group occupied a federal wildlife refuge headquarters, protesting federal lands policies.
The messaging follows 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 state and local authorities.
“We believe that Senate Bill 160 is part of a larger agenda to assert increased control over our public lands,” said Scott Braden with Conservation Colorado.
Lambert called the suggestion a “conspiracy theory,” which he said was “revolting” and “despicable.”
“We could have stopped the Waldo Canyon Fire the first day, and yet the U.S. Forest Service came in and said if you move stuff onto federal property, you will be arrested,” Lambert shouted.
“Pardon me for being passionate about this, but we lost 356 homes and two lives in El Paso County that day because of confusion over jurisdiction.”