From the Sopris Sun (John Colson):
Rankin said he already has two bills he plans to introduce this session, which is scheduled to run from Jan. 7 until May 11, 2015, barring unexpected extensions.
One bill he is certain he will be introducing is a “Federal Lands Coordination” bill, which calls for greater coordination between state government and the local governments at the county and city level in dealing with federal oversight of public lands in the state.
He termed this “a major bill that I’ve run two years in a row, that I’m going to get passed this year.”
He said that 70 percent of the lands in Western Colorado are federally controlled, a circumstance that often generates friction between federal land managers and local governments for a variety of reasons.
For example, he pointed to the ongoing debate over the status of different wildlife species that the federal government has listed as threatened with extinction, such as the sage grouse.
He pointed out that Garfield County has come up with its own sage grouse management plan, which he felt is as good as anything the federal agencies have in mind, but local governments have trouble convincing federal authorities to accept local management ideas.
“If there’s a species that comes up on the radar, and we’re doing a good job protecting it, it works better with local protection,” Rankin declared, adding that the same is true for resource management plans concerning such areas as the Roan Plateau in western Garfield County, where environmentalists and the energy industry have clashed over oil and gas drilling proposals.
Rankin said he was involved in negotiation of a recent compromise settlement regarding the Roan Plateau, and predicted, “We’re going to try to do that with the Thompson Divide,” an area near Carbondale where a similar dispute over oil and gas drilling plans has done on for the past five or six years.
His bill, he said, would bring the state government into such disputes on the side of local governments, and would result in negotiated settlements that meet the needs of environmentalists, industrialists, ranchers and area communities.
“We can make it a win for everybody,” Rankin said, calling his approach a way of creating “a better partnership with the federal government” and avoiding the cost and time of bureaucratic battles and possibly court action over everything from species protection to mineral extraction and cattle grazing.
Asked if his approach has anything common with the old Sagebrush Rebellion of the 1970s and 1980s, when westerners tried to wrest control of public lands from federal hands and turn control over to state and local governments, Ranking conceded, “There’s some of that going on.”
But, he said, “That’s not what my bill is all about.” He maintained that federal land managers “love it” when local governments offer to form partnerships in these matters, and that his bill will help that to happen.