The Montezuma County commissioners are officially opposing a BLM land purchase of 940 acres that would expand Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.
Two lots owned by Bud Poe on the Monument’s eastern border at Trail Canyon are being negotiated for transfer to the federal government’s local land base.
A 320-acre lot will be purchased for $640,000, and a proposed sale of an adjacent 620-acre lot is still under negotiations, said monument manager Marietta Eaton.
The county has been critical of such purchases because they reduce the local taxable land base while expanding federal influence.
“Consent for the BLM purchase is hereby revoked,” states the county’s Sept. 8 letter to the Colorado legislature and Secretary of State Scott Gessler.
“The General Assembly must now specifically consent to BLM’s purchase, over the objection of Montezuma County.”
The county contends that the BLM is already overburdened in managing the 171,000-acre monument, known for the most dense concentration of ancestral Puebloan sites in the nation. Since its proclamation by President Bill Clinton in 2000, the monument has grown by 7,000 acres.
“BLM repeatedly asserts that they do not have the funding to manage the land they already have, and adding another 940 acres to its load is asinine,” the letter states. “We cannot support another costly federal proposal such as this when the BLM cannot afford to manage what it already has.”
The letter asserts that under Colorado statute C.R.S. 3-1-102, the BLM requires legislative consent to acquire additional land.
According to the law, the land acquisition must be approved by the Colorado general assembly if the county requests it do so.
“We’re 70 percent federal land, so that limits what we can do with the remaining 30 percent,” said county commissioner Steve Chappell. “With these purchases, we lose the property taxes that help our schools.”
Monument manager Marietta Eaton has stated she disagrees with the county’s legal assertion that the purchase requires legislature approval. She said the additional land allows for connectivity at the monument and limits habitat fragmentation.
“The goal of the owner is to put the land in conservation,” Eaton said.
Funding for the land purchase comes from the Land and Water Conservation Fund derived from fees paid by off-shore drilling companies. The federal pot of money is earmarked for acquiring land, water, and easements for the benefit of all Americans.
Colorado has received more than $230 million from the conservation fund since its inception in 1964 to acquire lands, including at the monument, Perins Peak Wildlife Habitat Area, Mesa Verde National Park, the Ophir Valley, and the Gunnison Gorge.
Congress budgeted $600 million toward the onservation fund in the 2014 budget, with several projects identified in southwest Colorado.