GLENWOOD SPRINGS " A bill that could limit the Colorado Division of Wildlife's ability to purchase land or water interests has drawn the opposition of the head of the committee that is expected to consider it.
State Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, said Friday that she opposes House Bill 1137, which would require that when the DOW acquires land or water interests, it would have to sell other property within one year so its total property assets would not grow. Curry, whose district includes eastern Garfield County, is the chair of the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee, which will consider the bill.
Curry has joined with the DOW in opposing the bill proposed by Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling. She said the constituents in her district receive benefits when the DOW acquires land.
Sonnenberg acknowledged the challenge he faces in trying to get the bill passed.
"When leadership of the committee and of the House has been swayed, it makes the mountain much steeper to climb," said Sonnenberg.
He added the opposition of the DOW is another "stumbling block" for his bill.
Sonnenberg said he still plans on trying to persuade committee members to push the bill to the House floor. He said he would cite state statutes, which he said makes conservation land easements and leases the first priority to protect habitats, rather than outright acquisitions.
"This is where I believe that government needs to return to," Sonnenberg said.
Curry said the fate of the bill is uncertain because she doesn't know the thinking of other committee members or how they might vote.
House Bill 1137 would also require the DOW to pay local governments a payment in "lieu of taxes" equal to the amount of tax the governments would receive annually if the property were owned by a private person or corporation.
Further language in the bill would require that any DOW land or water interest purchase be approved by the legislature, according to the text of the bill.
Sonnenberg described himself as a hunter and fisherman.
"(HB) 1137 has come out of what I deem as the DOW buying more and more land, which has grown immensely over the last several years," said Sonnenberg. "It seems that we are skipping the easement and leases portion and going directly to land acquisitions. Leases and easements are much less expensive to accomplish than fee acquisitions.
"The DOW has the opportunity to use easements and leases and take twice as much land or more land, protect more habitats than they do now by owning the land," Sonnenberg said. "Leases and easements are less expensive than owning the land."
But Curry said many organizations on the Western Slope don't have enough funding to pursue conservation easements on all the property people are selling.
"If we didn't have the DOW stepping forward and doing acquisitions, we would see more housing developments," Curry said. "We would see more development on prime agricultural land. I have a lot of support for the DOW's efforts. They have really stepped up and bailed us out when we couldn't (protect lands) locally. That is why I won't be supporting HB 1137."