Dozens of residents packed a La Plata County commissioner meeting Tuesday in support of a resolution on public lands the panel was to vote on.
Commissioners reaffirmed their support for keeping public lands public, which was met with a standing ovation.
Commissioners voted unanimously to ratify a letter sent this month to state and federal leadership, reinforcing a resolution that received unanimous support from the same board in May 2015.
The resolution, which Commissioner Gwen Lachelt read aloud, established support for the continued federal management of federal lands in La Plata County in light of national and state debate about privatization of federal lands and transferring ownership to states.
The letter was sent to Colorado Counties Inc., congressional and state delegations, and federal agencies including the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management Tres Rios field office, to reiterate the commissioners’ position that public lands are a critical asset to the local economy and quality of life.
“Given that the issue of public lands ownership remains in the forefront of conversation at the state and national level, we believe it important and timely for the La Plata County Board of County Commissioners to reassert its perspective on this issue,” commissioners wrote. “On behalf of the citizens and businesses in La Plata County, we ask that you remember the extraordinary value of federal public lands to our community in the event that legislation is advanced through the legislative process for your consideration.”
People from environmental, recreational and political circles shared support for the sentiment.
“Hunters and anglers rely on public lands,” said Ty Churchwell of Trout Unlimited, a national fish and watershed conservation group headquartered in Durango.
Local author and avid hunter David Petersen, sporting a “public lands owner” sweatshirt, also sounded his support on behalf of Colorado Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.
Durango City Councilor Sweetie Marbury said that the state, if responsible for public land, would not be able to financially manage such costly and immense federal projects as Lake Nighthorse.
“Our taxes are dependent on our tourists,” Marbury added. “I support this letter, because the sales and lodgers tax are so important. The (Durango) Senior Center and public libraries are funded by joint sales tax. This letter is important to everyone that is a resident of La Plata County.”
Legislation that takes aim at public lands this session includes the Local Enforcement for Local Lands Act, introduced by Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz and designed to deputize county sheriffs to enforce law on land overseen by agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service.
“Conserving and protecting the public lands Coloradans cherish is a top priority of mine,” U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, said in a statement to The Durango Herald.
“I have long been a proponent of the permanent authorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and I’ve also introduced legislation that was signed into law that requires the federal government to measure the impact of the outdoor recreation industry on the economy. I’ll continue to work with my colleagues in Congress to protect public lands in Colorado and around the country.”