Ric Chavez

Ric Chavez retired from the Army with 21 years of service and multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. He is a volunteer with Vet Voice Foundation, a contractor and resides with his family in Colorado.

Colorado may be best known for its winters, but summer’s sun-filled days are a great time of year to enjoy our scenic public parks and vast network of hiking and biking trails.

For me, a military veteran, summer is a chance to reconnect with the outdoors. Our public lands and special places are one of the truly unique parts of our nation and I swore an oath to defend and protect them.

That’s why I’m concerned that the Trump administration is putting America’s outdoor legacy including places like Dinosaur National Monument here in Colorado — at risk by taking advantage of a decades-old backdoor practice known as noncompetitive leasing.

This decades-old backdoor process automatically makes any public lands that don’t receive a bid at competitive auctions available to any taker. Under this process companies can lease parcels of public land, many that will never generate revenue because they have little to no oil and gas resources.

Through this process, more than 3 million acres of public lands across the West have been leased to oil and gas companies, for less than the price of a Big Mac at $1.50 per acre.

Here in Colorado more than 50,000 acres of our public land have been made available for noncompetitive leasing just under the Trump administration, contributing to billions of dollars in lost revenue from oil and gas development

Veterans like myself didn’t serve to protect our lands so that they could be given to oil CEOs through loopholes at rock-bottom prices. Our public lands have so much to offer, and the Bureau of Land Management has a responsibility to manage them for their multiple-uses and for the public benefit. That includes fishing, hunting and outdoor recreation — not just energy development.

Thankfully, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, has introduced the Leasing Market Efficiency Act, a commonsense bill that will update this outdated process and ensure that all oil and gas lease sales on public lands are issued through a fair competitive process, instead of through the backdoor.

The need for this legislation is dire in Colorado where noncompetitive leasing could increase significantly in the coming years.The Trump administration recently finalized the Uncompahgre Resource Management Plan (RMP), which spans over 600,000 acres of public land and offers some of Colorado’s finest hunting opportunities.

After ignoring local communities and stakeholders who worked closely with BLM to develop a plan that upholds their multiple-use mandate, the agency released a final plan that opened 95% of the land to oil and gas leasing. Of the whopping 871,810 acres included in the plan that are now available for leasing — an area more than three times the size of Rocky Mountain National Park — many have low or no development potential.

If nominated for leasing, it’s likely that these landscapes will not receive bids at a competitive auction because they are not suitable for energy development and will become available for leasing behind closed doors. Ultimately, this practice limits Coloradans’ access to these landscapes for other purposes, including outdoor recreation.

In the Uncompahgre area, outdoor recreation is the crux of the region’s economy, with hunting alone generating more than $14 million locally. Outdoor recreation could be a key player in Colorado’s post-pandemic economy recovery, but thanks to the BLM’s inadequate RMP and the threat of an uptick in noncompetitive leasing, Coloradans and the local economy are left hanging in the balance.

U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nevada, has already introduced a bill to stop the practice of leasing low potential lands, and Sen. Tester’s bill will be a perfect complement to that. I urge Sens. Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet to support this common-sense solution to this growing problem.

Our veterans made it possible for everyone in this country to enjoy such a strong outdoor legacy, and there’s nothing more American than both parties working together to protect that legacy.

Together, these bills will move us closer to preserving Coloradans’ access to the outdoors for hunting, hiking, fishing and recreation so we can pass this legacy down for generations to come.

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