Republican U.S. Senate candidate Darryl Glenn is open to transferring management of federal public lands to the states.
Glenn told The Durango Herald that there is a misconception that such a sweeping move would result in mismanagement, privatization and sales of those lands.
“You do need more local control. ... I don’t accept the narrative that just because you want more local control of lands that somehow that’s not in the best interest of preserving the natural beauty and the amenities of the land,” Glenn said. “It’s everybody’s land, and I think more local control of that actually helps.”
He went on to state that it could be beneficial to allow states to take the reins.
“Don’t automatically assume just because a state wants to step in and be able to take over that that’s a bad thing,” Glenn said.
Glenn put himself at odds with environmental groups and Democrats who have suggested transferring of authority would lead to closure of those lands.
Democrats have worked this election to corner Republicans on the subject. In the 3rd Congressional District race, Democrat Gail Schwartz has made it a cornerstone issue, accusing Republican incumbent Scott Tipton of supporting efforts to “cut off access” and “sell off” public lands, something Tipton vehemently denies.
Democrat Hillary Clinton also made it an issue, stating, “I want you to know that as president, I will defend and protect America’s public lands.”
Republicans have long been a target of public lands attacks following a movement in the 1970s and 1980s to give more control of government-owned Western lands to state and local authorities. It was known as the “Sagebrush Rebellion.”
The issue gained steam this year after a standoff in Oregon, where an armed group occupied a federal wildlife refuge headquarters, protesting federal lands policies.
In the Legislature this year, a bill that sought to create a public land’s day in Colorado quickly devolved into a fight over whom should have authority over public lands.
The campaign for Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, whom Glenn is challenging, said Coloradans have no interest in transferring authority.
“Unlike Darryl Glenn, who has now admitted he would make it easier to sell off public lands across Colorado, Michael Bennet has consistently fought to protect our public lands,” said Alyssa Roberts, a Bennet spokeswoman. “Keeping these lands public not only preserves them for future generations, but powers our state’s booming outdoor recreation economy.”
Colorado Democrats had a similar reaction, “Darryl Glenn, by admitting he would make it easier to sell off public lands by handing over control to states, shows once again he is more interested in toeing the party line than doing what is right for Colorado,” said Chris Meagher, a spokesman for the Colorado Democratic Party. “He is out-of-touch with his own constituents, who want representatives who will protect our public lands, not make it easier to get rid of them.”
Conservation Colorado, an environmental group that also has been concerned about transferring authority, said, “By leaving the door open to and not vehemently opposing extreme efforts to privatize our public lands, Darryl Glenn shows yet again just how out of step he is with Coloradans and our way of life.
“Turning public lands over to the state could result in our access being blocked and major costs to taxpayers. This is not the type of leadership we need or want.”
Critics of land transfer proposals point to state trust land that was conveyed to the states by the federal government more than 100 years ago. Many of the states quickly sold the land. Fears exist that if states could auction off lands, it would result in closures for private business interests, such as ranching.
More generally, critics worry that transferring authority would result in costly burdens for states, which would lead to mismanagement and closures.
But Glenn pointed to the burden already placed on states and local governments to maintain lands, including the important job of fire mitigation. He said if authority were to be transferred to the states, then local governments could benefit from revenue generated on those lands, which would result in faster and better management practices.
Lawmakers in Congress are pushing for full funding of the Payments in Lieu of Taxes Program, which compensates counties for lost tax revenue stemming from the large amounts of federal lands in their counties that cannot be taxed under federal law.
La Plata County this year will receive $627,520 for 433,230 acres of land.
Glenn, an El Paso County commissioner, said it can be a struggle to receive those payments, which has hurt management practices.
“You’re asking counties, who are the safety net organizations, to be able to provide core services, to be able to do those forest services, but then the federal government is taking away that mechanism to be able to do it, and they’re always holding up payment,” Glenn said.
“What ends up happening is you end up having to make deep cuts in the forest services if the federal government does not compensate you for the property that they own.”