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Fact Check: Tipton’s statements on public land management are misleading

Cay Leytham-Powell, CU News Corps

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In the most recent debate, Rep. Scott Tipton argued with Democratic challenger Gail Schwartz in defense of his record with the U.S. House of Representatives on public land management. While his statements, made mostly in defense of H.R. 5836, did have some truth to them, when placed in proper context, they lean false or become misleading.

“Certain public lands that have been identified by the Forest Service and the BLM [Bureau of Land Management] – not by Congress, not by a Republican, not by a Democrat – by the BLM and the Forest Service, say there are lands that they cannot manage. It’s their call,” Tipton stated in the debate held on October 20, 2016. “I’ve always argued for public lands to be accessible for our people to make sure that we’re standing up for that access to it, and will continue to do so.”

Tipton, the incumbent Republican for the 3rd Congressional District — which represents the Western Slope and parts of Southeast Colorado, including Pueblo — has defended his record on public lands in the past, stating that he believes in a “balanced approach to federal land management.”

“Certain public lands that have been identified by the Forest Service and the BLM – not by Congress, not by a Republican, not by a Democrat – by the BLM and the Forest Service, say there are lands that they cannot manage. It’s their call.”

This statement, while having some truth, is misleading.

Tipton made the claim when defending H.R. 5836, a bill that he co-sponsored in the 2015-2016 legislative cycle. The bill provides for the, “orderly disposal of certain Federal lands, to benefit education and other purposes through the sales of such lands, to consolidate Federal lands to improve management, to provide for the acquisition of lands for recreational and other opportunities.”

By making this statement, it can be assumed that Tipton was saying that this bill allows for the agencies to get rid of lands that they don’t want.

It is true that some public land has been considered sell-able in the past by the Bureau of Land Management because it is difficult (not impossible) to manage. Land, however, can be sold at any time by the BLM for a variety reasons including if it is scattered or isolated, it was originally acquired for a specific governmental purpose that it no longer serves, or if disposal of the land serves some sort of greater public purpose, such as economic development or community expansion.

The Forest Service, however, does not have a list of un-manageable land, and very rarely sells its land. In the rare instances where it does, it can only proceed with Congressional approval.

In reality, what is considered “difficult to manage” by the agencies is a very small percentage of the total land controlled. The controlled lands tend to have a variety of management purposes, including wildfire prevention, watershed maintenance, and providing a “wild” space for the general public. By broadly stating that there is land that they cannot manage, the statement misleads the audience to incorrect assumptions regarding federal control — or the lack thereof.

“I’ve always argued for public lands to be accessible for our people to make sure that we’re standing up for that access to it, and will continue to do so.”

While technically this statement is true, it leans false when given context.

Technically, Tipton has worked to open up public lands to make them more accessible for greater recreational opportunities like hiking, skiing, fishing, shooting, and hunting, by cosponsoring or sponsoring at least six pieces of legislation. He has also supported opening up the public lands to other, more land-intensive, activities, such as grazing and using motorized vehicles and snowmobiling.

The majority of the public land bills that Tipton has either sponsored or cosponsored, however, have been to either initiate the sale of, or the transfer of federal lands to either local or state control.

When federal lands are transferred to either state or individual control, research shows that they actually diminish access to the land, not increase, due to increased pressure to use the land to make them affordable for states.

This has led many major sportsman groups, those who would benefit from the greater recreational opportunities, to come out against transferring control or the selling off of public lands.

“Transferring or selling these lands to states will do nothing to solve federal land management issues. It may also close the door to public access for hunters, anglers, hikers and others,” stated David Allen, RMEF president and CEO of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. “We all want better public lands but this concept is not the answer.”

Cay Leytham-Powell is a second-year master’s student in Media and Public Engagement at the University of Colorado Boulder. Her emphasis is in science and environmental journalism, working extensively with the Center for Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado Boulder. Currently, she is the editorial assistant for the Journal of Clinical Orthodontics, and an assistant art editor for SAPIENS, an anthropology publication. She graduated with a degree in biology from Grand View University.

 

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Explanatory multimedia reporting from CU Boulder journalism students
Fact Check: Tipton’s statements on public land management are misleading