Caught On Tape: Colorado Attorney General Candidate Vows To Seize National Forests From Feds

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Maroon Bells, north of Aspen, Colorado, in the White River National Forest.

In previously unreported comments that were captured on video, Colorado Republican attorney general candidate Cynthia Coffman can be seen telling supporters that she intends to lead a legal fight against the U.S. government to seize America’s national forests and public lands for state ownership and control.

The video appears to have been posted publicly by the Independent attorney general candidate David Williams in July. It shows Coffman describing her plan to attend the annual Conference of Western Attorneys General this summer with a “mission” to build support for taking over America’s public lands. Coffman says public land “has been taken from us” and that “it is time that the Western attorneys general join together and fought back against the federal government, and we took back that land.”

Across the West, there is a growing group of fringe politicians advocating a transfer of America’s public lands to state ownership and control. Critics have noted that the proposals would saddle state taxpayers with the high costs of fighting wildfires and managing national forests and public lands, resulting in higher taxes and a sell-off of public lands to private interests.

National public lands make up 36 percent of Colorado, help support a $13.2 million outdoor recreation economy in the state, and are a top destination for tourism to iconic places such as Pikes Peak, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, and the Maroon Bells. Notwithstanding the proposal’s high costs and opposition from politically-powerful Western hunters and anglers, however, politicians in eight Western states have continued to pursue legislative efforts to seize national forests, parks, and public lands, prompting skepticism about the constitutionality of such proposals among many of their own attorneys general and legal authorities.

Coffman’s statements align her with Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez, who is publicly advocating for the state to seize national forests and other public lands in Colorado. If both are elected, Colorado would join Utah as the second state where the Governor and Attorney General are actively pursuing state transfer proposals.

Coffman’s campaign spokeswoman was asked for comment and given a link to the video but did not respond.

Until now, Coffman’s views about the ownership and management of America’s public lands had not been clear. Coffman, who currently serves as the Chief Deputy to Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, has focused much of her campaign on advocating for oil and gas development in the state. Running a campaign heavily supported by Koch-funded groups, she states on her website that “the oil and gas industry is integral to Colorado’s economic health as well as to the U.S. energy supply,” and promises that if elected, she will take legal action against local communities that try to ban fracking.

In addition to solidifying her stance on public lands, Coffman also describes in the video how “Western AGs talk mainly about environmental issues,” including water and fracking, and “the endangered species act and how it is negatively impacting development in our state.”

New bipartisan public opinion research released last month shows that the majority of Western voters oppose public lands transfer proposals endorsed by Coffman, and believe that they would result in lands being auctioned off for drilling, mining and logging. In Colorado specifically, 66 percent of voters said that they didn’t think it would be fiscally responsible for the state to assume control of federal land and 80 percent believe that national forests and public lands should belong to all Americans, not just to one state.

Recent political polling shows Coffman leading Democratic opponent Don Quick.

Claire Moser is the Research and Advocacy Associate with the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress. You can follow her on Twitter at @Claire_Moser.