Leaked Obama Memo: Prospective Conservation Designations

Great Basin National Park

A new memo has surfaced revealing plans for the federal government to seize more than 10 million acres from Montana to New Mexico. In Nevada, the Obama administration might make another monument in the middle of the Great Basin because it, supposedly, is a “center of climate change scientific research.”

The leaked document also lists another 17 sites in 11 states that could be designated as national monuments through the federal Antiquities Act. Over 380,000 acres in Colorado are designated in the memo under the heading “Prospective Conservation Designation.”

The memo also says, around 380,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management and private land in Colorado would be subject to a “conservation designation” under the National Monument designation of the 1906 Antiquities Act. This designation would close the areas off to multi-use activities including, mining, hunting, grazing, oil and gas development and other recreational activities.

The memo was given to Utah Congressman Bob Bishop by a Department of Interior official. President Obama could enact the plans in this memo with just the stroke of a pen, without any advice from the communities affected by it or Congress.

The memo shows the goal of the designations is to limit multiple use activities and the potential development from oil and gas companies. It says all kinds of animals would be better off under the designation, like the coyotes, badgers, prairie dogs, elk, deer and pronghorn.

Colorado Congressman Doug Lamborn introduced legislation, H.R. 4716, along with Congressman Mike Coffman that would safeguard their state from presidential monument designations, ensuring all future national monument designations occur only through a process that includes comments from local officials, residents, and stakeholders.

“Colorado has a rich supply of natural energy that if used responsibly can provide high paying jobs and reduce energy costs. But this Administration just doesn’t get it,” said Lamborn.

In 1950, Congress passed a law that prohibited the future establishment of national monuments in Wyoming except as authorized by Congress. H.R.4716 is modeled after this legislation but inserts Colorado in the place of Wyoming.

“This legislation will help ensure that any decision to further restrict access to valuable natural resources is done so with the full input and knowledge of the people of Colorado,” explained Coffman.

Interior staffers also note in the memo that Colorado’s Alpine Triangle carries about 25,000 acres of patented mining claims that could be used to support backcountry cabins and second home development, which would “threaten the landscape.”

This dovetails into the recent Breckenridge, Colorado eminent domain case involving a 10-acre parcel of private land owned by Ceil and Andy Barrie, but surrounded by the White River National Forest. The property with a rustic cabin, an outhouse, and a non-functioning and shuttered 1800s era gold mine is on the land the local government seized for “open space.”

The government became involved once officials discovered the couple had used a utility vehicle which came with the property, to reach their land. In fact, the Barries used a road Summit County did not even realize existed to travel via the ATV.

After Summit County officials asked to purchase the land and had their request refused by the owners, proceedings to condemn the property and to seize it for eminent domain began. Summit County Attorney Jeff Huntley also claimed the county only seized the property because the Barrie’s refused to stop using the ATV.

“People in this community are very intent on preserving the back country,” Huntley said.

The Barrie’s stated throughout the legal battle they had the legal right of way to the property, and could use the off-road vehicles to reach the cabin, just as the previous owners had. Both Summit County and the US Forest Service officials deny that assertion.

Legal precedent however was not on the side of the couple. The state supreme court ruled that a similar open space seizure of private property near Telluride was constitutional in 2005.

In the end, the Barrie’s accepted an $115,000 offer from Summit County to purchase the property. The so-called voluntary settlement amount only covers the legal expenses involved in fighting the eminent domain seizure.

“The cabin was condemned on the grounds of plumbing and electricity,” complained Ceil Barrie, “when it doesn’t even have plumbing or electricity,”

In a statement released by Summit County officials, they claim the settlement will “halt various commercial activities” on the Barrie land. These ‘commercial activities’ involved raking up fallen pine cones for a Christmas wreath business.

Over the last forty years, the federal government has spent nearly $13 billion adding hundreds of thousands of acres to the federal estate. In fact, an area larger than the size of Florida has been added to federal lands since John F. Kennedy was president.

Former President Carter used his National Monument “proclamation authority” to offset the perceived damage from the construction of the Trans Alaska pipeline. Using an executive order, he ‘sequestered’ more land than any other president, taking more than 50 million acres in Alaska despite heavy opposition from the public.

The law allowed Former President Clinton to single-handedly create 19 new national monuments, expand three others and prohibit recreational use over 5.9 million acres without ever consulting anyone. He unilaterally closed the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah to oil and gas development, without ever consulting the public or state, local and federal officials. Prior to the designation, the 135,000 acre region was responsible for producing 65,000 barrels of oil a year.

Congressman Bishop says he released the document because he does not want to see another land grab like what happened under previous administration.

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Leaked Obama Memo: Prospective Conservation Designations

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