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When local isn't better

City Sage


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In a 2012 column penned for Townhall Finance Daily, a virulently right-wing website (typical headline from last week: "Obama welcomes ultimate illegal immigrant: Ebola virus"), GOP gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez railed about "the vast amounts of land, particularly in the natural resources-rich Western states, held by the federal government."

"According to the USDA Economic Research Service," Beauprez wrote, "of the 2,264,000,000 acres that comprise the United States of America, the federal government owns 635,000,000 of them, or more than 28 percent. In addition, state and local governments own 195,000,000 acres and another 56,000,000 acres is the sovereign territory of the various Indian Tribes. Thus, nearly 4 of every 10 acres of land in the U.S. — 39.13 percent — is owned by a government entity rather than private citizens; easily the largest asset controlled by the collectivist state. And, even the land that is privately held has volumes of regulations controlling what citizens can do on and with it."

Beauprez goes on to denounce the government's "Central Planners" and calls for the feds to "hand over control" of these lands to states and local governments, because they're "one giant step closer to the people."

That's part of standard Republican irredentist rhetoric. It appeals to folks who don't much like the sleepy inefficiencies of "big government." It seems rational and egalitarian: Why should distant federal bureaucracies administer Colorado public lands?

We've seen that up close recently, as City Council has refused to approve Colorado Springs Utilities' plan to transfer Jones Park and its associated liabilities to the National Forest Foundation, opting instead to work on handing it over to El Paso County. That option makes no sense financially, as it transfers liability for the property and its remnant population of greenback trout from one set of local taxpayers to another.

Council President Keith King spoke for the majority in saying that, given the choice, he'll always support local control. Yet, when it comes to federal lands, local-control advocates confuse proximity with ownership.

Every one of us owns an undivided share in all of our federal lands. You get one share, Philip Anschutz gets one share, and a child born one minute ago to an undocumented immigrant gets one share. That property is held in trust for the benefit of all citizens, not the enrichment of a few.

For much of the 19th century, federal lands were up for grabs, freely available to schemers and scammers. Railroads, mining companies, ranchers, homesteaders and speculators swarmed the West, trying to build a country and make a buck. Things changed in the 20th century as the feds became caretakers, protectors and stewards of our national patrimony. But that doesn't make federal lands safe from those who seek to use them for private gain.

For today's sly oligarchs, removing land from federal control is Job One. Local control makes it easier for extractive industries to influence decision-making. Forget future generations; we want jobs and economic development! To accelerate the process, get your allies in Congress to defund the stewards, such as the U.S. Forest Service, National Parks Service and Bureau of Land Management, then complain about their bureaucratic incompetence.

It's sad to see the Republican Party, the fons et origo of the conservation movement, hijacked by modern robber barons. If it has its way, Colorado will become the next West Virginia, a once-pristine land stripped and plundered for transient needs.

It doesn't have to be that way. Consider the undeveloped portion of the Pikes Peak watershed, off-limits for a century to protect the city's water supply. Thanks to a long, testy, but eventually cooperative process, the North Slope reservoirs were opened to public use, the Pikes Peak Highway was paved, a new Summit House is in the offing, and as of last Thursday we can fish for cutthroats in the South Slope reservoirs.

Multiple partners made this happen, including the state, city, Utilities, Forest Service, Friends of the Peak, Trails and Open Space Coalition and more. Volunteers and government employees worked together for the common good to preserve, protect and make accessible our regional treasures.

General William Palmer and Teddy Roosevelt would be pleased, as Councilor Jill Gaebler noted last week.

Gotta love that collectivist state, Bob Beauprez, even it means we'll never see oil and gas rigs on the South Slope!


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