Federal control of lands has become an issue in this year’s election, as the man who could be Colorado’s next governor, Republican Bob Beauprez, wants the state to take control of most of the federally administered land within the state’s borders.
“If you believe in state sovereignty, if you believe in the way this republic is supposed to work, we do need to stand up and push back on the federal government, and I’ll push back,” Beauprez said at a debate in Grand Junction, Colorado, in August. “This is supposed to be Colorado’s land, not the federal government’s.”
Beauprez  called taking control of the federal land a “fight we have to wage.” The candidate wants the state to take responsibility for 8.3 million acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property in the state. The Republican does not want the state to seize national parks, as some of his opponents have claimed.
“We need to be able to utilize that BLM land more effectively to help our state’s economy, while preserving our National Parks,” his website says.
The issue is a potentially huge one in Colorado, where 36 percent of the land in the state — around 67 million acres — is under the control of various federal  agencies. It is also a very controversial one because some citizens fear wild lands could end up in the hands of real estate developers.
Of the federal lands in the state, 34 percent is controlled by the BLM. Sixty percent is controlled by the US Forest Service.
Beauprez Could Win
The Colorado governor’s race could bring the federal lands issue into the mainstream because Beauprez is leading in some polls. He is challenging Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper.
The Quinnipac University Poll showed Beauprez  winning, 46-42 percent, while the Denver Post Poll/Survey USA poll showed Hickenlooper narrowly ahead, 45-44 percent.
Hickenlooper opposes state control over BLM lands because of the potential cost to taxpayers. The governor estimates that it would cost the state $200 million a year to administer BLM lands.
“I think long-term we’re going to do a lot better by getting the federal  government to take care of it,” Hickenlooper said in response to Beauprez’s remarks.
“If this were private land and the federal government were the tenant, we’d cancel the lease,” Beauprez said. “They do that bad of a job of taking care of the land.”
Test for State Sovereignty
The Colorado governors’ race could be a major political test for the issues of state sovereignty and control of federal lands.
There’s no guarantee that voters are with Beauprez.
Fifty-two percent of the voters in eight western states oppose state governments taking control of federal  land, according to a survey conducted by the firms FM3 and Public Opinion Strategies. The main reason voters oppose the move: The potential cost of controlling the land which could lead to higher taxes. About 42 percent of voters surveyed support more state control of federal lands.
The percentage of voters that strongly oppose more state control was 31 percent while the percentage that strongly support more state control was 19 percent. The pollsters surveyed 1,600 voters in eight states: Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming.
When voters were asked if they were willing to have states assume full control of federal lands and pay for all the costs of maintenance, 59 percent of voters said no.
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