By Daniel Wallis
DENVER (Reuters) - Groups representing hunters, outdoor enthusiasts and wildlife advocates rallied side by side in Denver on Wednesday in protest of a proposal by Colorado lawmakers that seeks to take control of federal public lands in the state.
Organizers of the demonstration outside the Capitol building, which drew about 100 people including some wearing camouflage hunting outfits below bright orange headwear, said the state has no right to seek so-called cooperative management of national lands.
"This kind of action is not supported by the overwhelming majority of Coloradans who consistently state that they believe these lands belong to all Americans and should be managed for the benefit of all," said Kate Zimmerman, director of public lands policy for the National Wildlife Federation.
The Republican-sponsored bill before lawmakers seeks to reserve for the state of Colorado "the right to exercise, concurrently with the United States government, all of the same authority possessed by the United States government with respect to a particular area."
The bill argues that the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management have restricted efforts by the state of Colorado and its counties to respond to wildfires that start on land owned and operated by the U.S. government.
Supporters say a "concurrent" approach between federal, state and local governments also is needed to investigate and prosecute crimes such as arson and illegal drug production.
Neighboring Utah enacted a law in 2012 calling for U.S. public lands there to be transferred to state control, and similar proposals have been put forward in other Western states.
But opponents point to surveys that show a majority of voters in Western states oppose proposals to take over the management and costs of national forests and other public lands run by the federal government.
A poll carried out last month by Colorado College found more than 80 percent of state residents cited the ability to be near and recreate on public lands as a significant factor for living in the West. Seventy-two percent said public lands belong to all Americans, the poll reported, not individual states.
Kirk Deeter, an editor at large for Field & Stream magazine from the small Colorado town of Pine, told the rally it was "un-American" to want to get rid of public lands.
"There's no place in the world that has it quite like we do. If you're an American, you're bound to the land," Deeter said.