Colorado BHA Asks Montrose County Commission to Reconsider Support of Federal Land Transfer

July 13, 2014

Dear Commissioners:

I’m writing you both as a veteran and chairman of the Colorado Backcountry Hunters & anglers. As you are likely aware, it was a fellow veteran, Theodore Roosevelt, who is responsible for much of the great public lands inheritance and heritage that Americans enjoy today.

In 1887, Roosevelt founded the Boone and Crockett Club with fellow sportsmen. As explained by American Hunter contributor Mike Fuljenz, this group later became Roosevelt’s brain trust of “hunter-conservationists” during his presidential crusade to preserve habitat for elk, deer, buffalo, and other species among America’s vast wild places and wide open spaces. To Roosevelt, no one was better suited to lead this crusade than America’s hunters—those who spent time in the wilds and respected the beauty and wildlife like few others.[1]

Roosevelt’s work as a “conservation president” was one of many initiatives through which he left lasting imprints on the nation. However, today TR’s public lands legacy is being put at risk. Recently, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a budget engineered by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) that supports selling “unneeded acreage” of federal land on the open market. And here in Colorado legislation sponsored by Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg (R) and Senator Scott Renfroe (R) is aimed at “transferring” our federal public lands to the state.

In addition, we understand that the Montrose County Commission recently adopted a resolution supporting the “study and full implementation of the timely transfer of federally controlled public lands to the state of Colorado.” We believe such proposals are bad for sportsmen, bad for wildlife, and bad for anyone who recreates on public lands. Transferring public lands to states would mean less hunting and fishing opportunities for the average American because:

-State Lands are managed to return the highest possible yield to their school trusts. That means wildlife and recreational considerations are left off the table in many states.

-In Wyoming, you are not allowed to camp on State Lands. At all.

-In Arizona, you can only camp on State Land for 14 days per year.

-In Montana, you can only camp on State Land for 2 days before having to move.

Currently, in Colorado, only 20 percent of State Lands are open to public use (access paid entirely by sportsmen through hunting license and gun sales), while the other 80 percent are leased out to the highest bidder. Whereas our federal public lands are managed for multiple uses, State Lands are managed for the highest yielding use/income.

We have no right to access State Lands like we do federal public lands, which are owned by all Americans. Article 9 of the Colorado Constitution mandates that State Lands be managed to generate revenue. Yet, the constitution mentions nothing about public access. Thus, unless the constitution is revised, recreational access on state land will remain a pay-to-play game.

In addition, in Montana (for example), it’s estimated that if federal public lands were given to the state the grazing fees would have to be raised over 600%. As explained by Field & Stream’s Hal Herring, “There would be a whole-scale abolishment of what we know as ranching culture in the American West. Ranchers would have gone from some of the cheapest grazing fees on the planet to oblivion.”[2]

And in the words of Clear Creek County Commissioner (and sportsman) Tim Mauck: “Selling off our federal public lands makes as much economic sense as killing the goose that lays golden eggs. Clear Creek County is proud that 74 percent of our land is public and provides a robust recreational economy by attracting tens of thousands of hunters, anglers, hikers, river rafters, mountain bikers, backpackers, campers, skiers and other outdoor enthusiasts that seek out my community year-round for vacations, tours, exercise and relaxation in true western fashion.”[3]

Hinsdale County Sheriff Ron Bruce adds: “States taking back federal lands sounds all fine and dandy but people need to remember it comes at significant cost. Just as a small example: last year’s ‘Complex’ Fire largely in Mineral, Rio Grande and Hinsdale Counties ran up a bill approaching $40M at last count. If those lands belong to Colorado vs. USFS … you can be certain ‘Uncle Sugar’ is not stepping up to pay that bill. That’s just ONE event. Multiply that by how many more and the costs would bankrupt most states.”[4]

Hunters, anglers, and other outdoorsmen and women are intimately familiar with our public lands. We know that the possible sale or transfer of public lands used for hunting, fishing, camping, and hiking will only serve to enrich a few at the expense of many and eliminate access to our public lands and waters. These are lands that were set aside “for the greatest good of the greatest number for the longest time,” as Gifford Pinchot, first director of the United States Forest Service (appointed by Teddy Roosevelt), said.

In the words of Jim Posewitz, founder of Orion, The Hunter’s Institute, “It is the land, as wild as we can sustain it, that both the hunter and the hunted need to survive.” Fellow hunter, Teddy Roosevelt, said: “The principles thus formulated and applied may be summed up in the statement that the rights of the public to the natural resources outweigh private rights, and must be given its first consideration.”

Steve Kandell, Director of Trout Unlimited’s Sportsmen’s Conservation Project, also made it clear that fishermen and sportsmen don’t support land sell-off proposals. Kandell said that “public lands shape the American identity, support local economies and perpetuate our sporting heritage. They should not be sold.”[5]

To a big game hunter who (like over 90% of Colorado sportsmen) hunts public lands, these recent pushes by some elected officials and big-industry groups to transfer our federal public lands to state ownership, or to sell them off outright to private interests, is (as best) unsettling and (at it’s worse) doing the bidding of anti-hunting organizations. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that long ago (during the Bush administration) that similar shenanigans were taking place.

However, it didn’t take long for administration officials to realize their actions were unpopular with nearly everyone, as reported by the Rocky Mountain News: “There’s little support for a Bush administration plan to sell 300,000 acres of Forest Service land, federal officials said … ‘We acknowledge that the vast majority are expressing opposition,’ said Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey. He said 75 percent of the comments received were negative.”[6] Of course, this isn’t surprising to hunters and anglers.

The annual survey of hunting and fishing by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finds that the vast majority of hunters pursue game on public lands. In New Mexico, for example, 94 percent of hunters surveyed said they hunted on public lands. In other Western states the percentages are also high: Arizona (82%), Idaho (88%), Montana (86%), Utah (81%), and Wyoming (74%).[7] In Colorado, 92 percent of hunters use public lands.[8] In addition, 74 percent of Coloradans are opposed to selling public lands according to a 2014 State of the Rockies poll.

“My view is that public lands are the only guarantee in Colorado that sportsman have to hunt and fish,” says Kent Ingram, an avid big game hunter and representative to the state’s sportsmen’s roundtable. “This isn’t Texas. We are so lucky to have the abundance of public lands we have here and all sportsmen need to understand that and protect them.”[9]

As explained by Field & Stream contributor Hal Herring, the most powerful and effective anti-hunting movement in the United States is not PETA or the Humane Society. It is not headquartered in any bustling metropolis; it has no representatives in Hollywood. The most powerful anti-hunting movement in the U.S. is the loss of places to hunt and shoot.[10]

We believe the Montrose County Commission resolution proposing the transfer of federal public lands to the state is detrimental to the future of hunting/angling and our great outdoors heritage, and ask you to reconsider your position on this issue. America’s tradition of allowing public lands access for hunting, angling and other recreation is the epitome of our unique and successful North American Model of natural resource/wildlife management. And for most of us public lands are the only lands we will ever own.

Chris Wood, Trout Unlimited president and CEO, adds: “Wilderness areas are strongholds for fish and game, and provide places where people can go to challenge themselves in pursuit of trout, salmon, elk or mule deer. Keeping these places as they are is one of the most important things that can be done in service of our sporting heritage.” But perhaps third-generation U.S. Army veteran (and Coloradan), Garrett Reppenhagen, sums up the importance of our public lands best:

“Like many other Americans, veterans count on our public lands for fishing, hiking, camping and hunting with our families—but these activities are especially crucial in vets' physical and emotional healing from the stress of combat. For us, national parks, monuments and public lands aid our recovery and assimilation back into Stateside life.”[11]

“Just as the men and women in the armed services defend our American way of life every day, we all need to be vigilant in defending our national treasures. Legislation proposed in Congress would sell off public lands and roll back protections. In fact, other veterans and I traveled to Washington, D.C. … to remind the White House and Congress of our shared responsibility as stewards of our public lands.”[12]

As a former air force officer and chairman of the Colorado Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA), I’ve been privileged to hunt and fish with many veterans who are BHA members. We are a grassroots group of sportsmen and women who are united by a passion to protect and conserve the public lands, forests, mountains, prairies, streams, and lakes that support our hunting and angling traditions. 

Please take our comments into consideration and include them in the public record regarding this issue. Thank you for your public service and consideration.



David A. Lien[13]

Chairman, Colorado

Backcountry Hunters & Anglers

The Sportsman's Voice for Our Wild Public Lands, Waters and Wildlife

“A duck, a deer, or a fish does not take a political side,

Republican, Democrat or Independent, and I’ll

support the individual who supports us.”

–Bob Lessard[14]


[1] Mike Fuljenz. “President Theodore Roosevelt.” American Hunter: December 2010, p. 30.

[2] Hal Herring. “The Unsung Value of Our BLM Lands.” Field & Stream: 6/25/14.

[3] Alex McCarthy. “Udall Champions Bill to Protect Job-Creating Public Lands, Safeguard Colorado’s Special Way of Life.” 6/25/14.

[4] Ron Bruce, Sheriff (Hinsdale County, Colo.). Email: 4/2/14.

[5] Claire Moser. “Ted Cruz Launches Senate Fight To Auction Off America’s Public Lands.” 7/10/14.

[6] Deborah Frazier. “Forest land sale sputters.” Rocky Mountain News: 3/30/06.

[7] Jim Range and Luther Propst. “Backcountry Bounty: Hunters, Anglers and Prosperity in the American West.” Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership & Sonoran Institute: June 2006.

[8] Tim Brass. “Funding for public access and conservation vital to hunters and anglers.” Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: June 2014.

[9] Scott Willoughby. “Government shutdown came at bad time for Colorado sportsmen.” The Denver Post: 10/22/13.

[10] Hal Herring. “We Need Our Public Lands, Now More Than Ever.” Field & Stream: 2/14/14.

[11] Garrett Reppenhagen, third-generation Army veteran (served as a sniper in Iraq and with peacekeeping forces in Kosovo. Now Rocky Mountain Coordinator for Vet Voice Foundation). “In our sights: Browns Canyon.” Colorado Springs Independent: 12/25/13. Also see:

[12] Garrett Reppenhagen, third-generation Army veteran (served as a sniper in Iraq and with peacekeeping forces in Kosovo. Now Rocky Mountain Coordinator for Vet Voice Foundation). “In our sights: Browns Canyon.” Colorado Springs Independent: 12/25/13. Also see:

[13] David Lien is the author of Age-Old Quests II: Hunting, Climbing & Trekking ( and was recently recognized by Field & Stream as a “Hero of Conservation.” For additional information see:

[14] Bob Lessard. “Dedicated funding history from Bob Lessard.” Outdoor News: 6/7/13, p. 28.

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