Public loses in land swaps
June 13, 2012
“The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
But lets the greater felon loose
Who steals the common from off the goose.”
The anonymous person who wrote this poem did so in response to the English Inclosure Acts; in the 18th and 19th centuries, the House of Lords passed a series of laws conveying the common fields to themselves and their peers with the intent of increasing agricultural productivity and hence, their rental income. The Inclosure Acts frequently included something in exchange, often of inferior quality and location. If this sounds arcane, I suggest that it isn’t; it’s happening right here in our neighborhood.
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Right now, there are two land exchanges proposed in our backyard, the Sutey Ranch Land Exchange next to Carbondale and the Bear Ranch Exchange on Kebler Pass. Both involve public lands sandwiched between properties owned by the respective proponents. Both would result in half the public acreage that currently exists. Both would dramatically increase the value of the proponents’ aggregate holdings. If these two exchanges prevail, then the public will be 2,500 acres poorer.
This contemporary “Inclosure” doesn’t begin and end here. One hour of very informal Internet research has found specific information on seven completed exchanges in Colorado over the last 17 years, and the public is 19,000 acres poorer for them. (There is a lot of unclear information on several more.)
One of these occurred just across the Crystal from the current Sutey proposal and privatized 2,700 acres, or 4 square miles, of public lands with road access around Spring Gulch in addition to the thousands of acres the beneficiary already owned.
The proponents of the Sutey Ranch land exchange want you to see this transaction in isolation, as though we’re only forgoing a few hundred acres of the public domain in return for some mountain bike trails. But I urge you to think of it in a larger context and recognize the ways in which this whittling away of the public domain makes everyone but the owners of these increasingly large land holdings a little bit poorer.
So, if you rely on public lands as a biker, hiker, mountaineer, hunter, fisherman, wildlife lover, quiet seeker or just plain populist, please take time to consider all aspects of the Sutey exchange and comment on what you find. There is information at http://www.facebook.com/suteylandexchangefacts. You don’t have to be on Facebook to look at the page. You can also look at the BLM Colorado River Valley Field Office’s website, and the BLM is holding an open house at Aspen City Hall from 4 to 6 p.m. today. For information on the Bear Ranch Exchange, check out http://www.raggedmountainlandexchange.com.