OPINION: The Future of Our Public Lands

My dad was a forest ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park before I was born. He and my mom raised my older brother there in the summers, in a tent. By the time I showed up, they knew every nook and cranny of the park, and we spent many weekends exploring the wilderness and climbing the peaks. Public lands have always been a part of my history. I never imagined people would not see the value of this national treasure: a place for all of us to share and enjoy.

I have been surprised and disappointed to see efforts by some federal and state legislators that would pave the way for public lands to be sold or otherwise taken out of public hands. The Local Enforcement for Local Lands Act, brought forward by a Utah congressman, would make local sheriffs and law enforcement responsible for massive swaths of land. It doesn’t make sense to place that burden on small agencies that do not have the capacity and are not trained to manage natural resources. They should be able to stick to their most important responsibility: protecting public safety.

But delegating the care of public lands means more than just headaches for county sheriffs. It is deeply irresponsible. States and counties are not trained to take care of the wilderness, nor can they afford it. Putting such a huge financial burden on an already struggling government could mean that expenditures like education, transportation or health care could be stripped of money if we need to spend state funds to put out a forest fire. When the state or county goes broke, they could be forced to sell our lands to a private owner.

And we would no longer have access to land that used to belong to all of us.

Our bicyclists, sportsmen, fishermen and everyone who enjoys the multiple uses of federal lands would suffer. We deserve better.

Outdoor recreation is a major economic driver in Colorado. Recently Governor Hickenlooper, Senator Cory Gardner and Senator Michael Bennett wrote a letter encouraging the Outdoor Retailer Trade Show to come to Colorado. After a 20-year run in Salt Lake City, the Outdoor Retailers are leaving because the Utah government has repeatedly undermined its public land for short-term gain. Companies like Patagonia who care about protecting nature have decided it’s time to go elsewhere.

This land has been passed down with care to me, and I don’t want to shirk my responsibilities to my children. I want our rivers full of healthy trout, and our forests teeming with wildlife for generation after generation.

So when our politicians, like myself, say they care about public lands, we need to hold them accountable for protecting them.


Barbara McLachlan

State Rep. Barbara McLachlan represents House District 59, which includes Archuleta, Gunnison, Hinsdale, La Plata, Ouray and San Juan counties.