DENVER – The Colorado Wildlife Federation, along with 40 other conservation and sportsman groups, is asking the Republican National Committee to reconsider its support of states and the private sector taking responsibility for federal public lands.
The RNC passed the resolution this year, but lifelong Republicans like Garrett VeneKlasen, who serves as the executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, says he wants his fellow Republicans to follow the tradition of the party.
“The genesis of the public lands idea comes out of the conservative party,” he says. “As a lifelong Republican, I don’t understand why the party itself has abandoned this.”
Efforts have been underway for months in Washington to relinquish control of some public lands to states like Colorado. The National Wildlife Federation and other groups are concerned the move would impact protection of the land, and local economies that rely upon it.
The National Wildlife Federation’s 49 state affiliates have unanimously approved a resolution that calls for keeping public lands in government hands and opposes large-scale exchanges, sales, or giveaways of federally managed lands.
According to Suzanne O’Neill, executive director of the Colorado Wildlife Federation, the public stands to lose more than access to quiet, unpolluted outdoor recreation if these lands are lost – they stand to lose a portion of the nation’s natural heritage.
“The public will lose its legacy and its expectation that these public lands remain available – not only for present generations, but for future generations,” O’Neill says.
VeneKlasen refers to public lands as an American inheritance.
“You and I are not only trustees of those public lands in Colorado; we’re equal trustees,” he says. “Proximity doesn’t bestow any sort of entitlement or privilege.”
The 2014 Conservation in the West Poll, a bipartisan survey by Colorado College, found that nearly two-thirds of Westerners consider themselves conservationists, and 91 percent of voters in the Rocky Mountain region agree that public lands – like national parks, forests and wildlife areas – are an essential component of their state’s economy.