Expanding Public Access on Colorado's State Trust Lands

The state of Colorado currently provides public hunting and fishing access on a mere 20 percent of its state trust lands, or approximately 480,000 of 3 million acres. This represents the lowest level of public access offered on state trust land in any state in the West.

Of the other 80 percent, much of the best hunting and fishing is leased to the highest bidder for exclusive recreational access, locking out most sportsmen. Contrast this with our federal public lands, nearly all of which are open to any sportsman with a valid license and a passion for adventure.

As hunting and fishing access is increasingly controlled by the wealthy and well-connected, public access only becomes more important. Lack of public access is the No. 1 reason hunters cite for giving up their sporting traditions. We can help reverse this trend by working to ensure that those of us who hunt and fish always have a place to recreate. 


Frequently Asked Questions

Isn’t most state trust land in Colorado already open to the public?
No. While every other Western state provides public access to the majority of state trust lands with legal public access (via public road or adjacent to public land), Colorado currently provides access to only about 20 percent (485,000 acres) of its lands. Of the remaining 80 percent, private outfitters, clubs and individuals control recreational access on 5 percent. Recreational access on the remaining 75 percent is controlled by those who lease the state trust lands for other purposes, such as agriculture and energy production. Note that these lease holders are not paying for the exclusive recreational access they currently enjoy.


How is public access managed on the 20 percent of state trust lands are open for public hunting and fishing?
Sportsmen’s license fees are currently used to lease the 485,000 acres of state trust lands that are currently open to the public at a rate of $1.76/acre. CPW pays the state land board for this recreational access, which is mainly limited to the hunting season and does not include other recreational activities like camping, biking or hiking outside of set hunting season dates.

What is the history behind the current private recreational use of state trust lands?
Historically, public access was largely unavailable on state trust lands. As Colorado’s population boomed and traditional hunting and fishing access became more difficult to find, interest grew in expanding public access to state trust lands. Coloradan sportsmen fought for expanded public access to these lands, and an agreement was eventually struck with the Colorado state land board to better manage state trust lands for multiple uses and to provide public access on at least 50 percent of Colorado’s state trust lands (1.5 million acres). However, opposition to expanded public access by lease holders stymied the program’s expansion.

How do I know what lands are leased by CPW for public access?
You can look up every parcel of state trust land, as well as what it is leased for, on the state land board’s website here!

To turn on the public access layer, go to “SLB Special Management Areas” and check “Public Access Program.” To see what lands are leased privately for recreation, go to “Other Surface Leases” and check “Recreation.” The remaining lands are currently not leased for recreation.

Is the state required to maximize revenue from state trust lands?
No. The constitution requires the state land board to generate “reasonable and consistent” revenue from state trust lands and manage them in a way that does not jeopardize their health or ability to generate revenue for trust beneficiaries (schools, county governments and other agencies).

What is Backcountry Hunters & Anglers doing to fix this?
BHA is working with a coalition of other sportsmen’s organizations to advance state legislation that would require the state land board to work more cooperatively with CPW to better serve the growing public interest for improved public access on state trust lands. But we can’t do it without you!

About Tim Brass