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Public Land in Colorado isn’t So Public After All

Millions of acres of state-held public land is closed off to hunters in Colorado.

You’d think planning a hunting trip to Colorado would be a easy call to make. Big game species abound, and there are over-the-counter license options available. Combined with the huge amount of public land, anybody with the drive to do it can make their own big game hunting adventure a reality.

However, whether you are a resident or an out-of-state hunter, something to consider before planning your Colorado hunt is the fact that over 2.5 million acres of state land has been effectively blocked off to hunters, fisherman, hikers and other recreationists.

State Lands In Colorado. Colorado State Land Board
State Lands In Colorado. Colorado State Land Board

When Colorado was admitted to the United States in 1876, the U.S. Government granted the state 3,933,378 acres of land to be categorized as “State Trust Lands.” Congress established the policy of granting lands to states to support the funding of public education and the local economy. Unlike other types of public land, the vast majority of state lands are held specifically for economic benefit. Nowhere in the congressional mandate does it make it a requirement for states to set aside trust lands for recreational activities like hunting, camping, fishing or hiking. However, most western states do allow at least some limited access to state lands, Colorado being the only state in the west that doesn’t.

Colorado still retains about three million of the four million acres granted at statehood, the rest being sold off. Of the three million acres still managed by the state only 480,000 acres are open to hunting and fishing, representing the lowest level of state land access in the West. This is due to the fact that for the public to gain access to state lands in Colorado, the land must be leased by another group or individual.

In 1992, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was passed to open at least 50 percent of the state trust lands to public access. While a great move for the people of Colorado, the agreement has never been honored by the state due to the pressure of industries looking to lease sole rights to the land.

The requirement to lease the land for access puts everyday sportsman into direct competition with much more moneyed interests, like gas and oil companies looking to extract non-renewable resources from the property, and by wealthy individuals with the massive amount disposable income required to lease the property exclusively for themselves.

Let that sink in for a moment, you the taxpayer have to pay for the privilege to hunt state managed animals on state held land. This is in direct contrast to the federally managed land throughout the state which is typically open to any sportsman with a license in their hand, regardless of economic means. It is also a bit at odds with the North American Wildlife Conservation Models principles of hunting opportunity for all and wildlife being held in the public trust for current and future generations to enjoy.

The sportsman group Backcountry Hunters & Anglers  and a bipartisan set of leaders in the Colorado General Assembly are working to develop legislation to expand public access on Colorado’s state trust lands. They have created a petition to help make the voice of supporters heard. If you want to help guarantee access for sportsman and women in Colorado, sign the petition here.

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Public Land in Colorado isn’t So Public After All