Fall in Colorado is an amazing time to experience our outdoor traditions. Rifle season is in full swing for big game hunters. Fishing is peaking as autumn mayfly hatches, and spawning brown trout draw anglers to Gold Medal streams and lakes throughout the state. It is the time of year that drives our $28 billion outdoor recreation economy as hikers, campers, climbers, and mountain bikers spend time outdoors before switching gears to snow sports.
But outdoor traditions like these are at risk on this November’s ballot. Amendment 74 could devastate hunting, fishing, and wildlife management.
On its face, Amendment 74 seems somewhat reasonable — the government should compensate private property owners for a loss in property values caused by a government action. Once you dig a little deeper, though, it becomes clear that Amendment 74 is an extreme, sweeping proposal that would trigger a flood of lawsuits with Colorado taxpayers footing the bill. That’s exactly what happened when a similar measure passed in Oregon; nearly $20 billion in claims were filed in the first three years, threatening funding for schools, roads, and public safety.
Our tax dollars aren’t the only thing in jeopardy, however. Amendment 74 would also gut reasonable measures to conserve Colorado’s fish and wildlife habitat.
For instance, in 2007 the General Assembly passed the Colorado Habitat Stewardship Act, which ensures oil and gas operations don’t unduly threaten fish and wildlife. The law limits drilling on critical big game winter range and requires companies to mitigate impacts to fish. If Amendment 74 passes, any limit on oil and gas drilling, even in our most vital fish and wildlife habitat, could be interpreted as a loss of production, forcing taxpayers to pay the companies for that loss of value.
Amendment 74 isn’t just about oil and gas development, though. It could be used to challenge any law that protects the places where we hunt, fish, climb, camp, bike, hike, and enjoy nature. Consider local regulations that require construction projects to protect our waterways, from the maintenance of buffers around streams to the management of stormwater runoff. Even these sensible regulations could be challenged in court, requiring taxpayers to pay compensation and compelling local leaders to abandon these important protections.
The language of Amendment 74 is so broad that virtually any arguable impact on private property from measures designed to conserve fish and wildlife — no matter how reasonable or justified or minimal or incidental or temporary — could trigger a claim for taxpayer compensation to the property owner.
The exact reach of Amendment 74’s impacts would undoubtedly be decided in the courts, tying up state and local governments in needless litigation, even for frivolous claims. The other impact of Amendment 74 would be a major chilling effect on any local or state government rules designed to protect our environment, public health, and communities. And as our local governments grind to a halt, so would Colorado’s economy.
These are not just theoretical “what ifs.” We’ve seen these consequences in Oregon, and that’s what prompted them to repeal their measure. Colorado can learn from their costly mistake and vote “no” the first time.
Amendment 74 is unnecessary, extreme, and risky — and it would be enshrined in Colorado’s constitution, making it permanent. Its intended and unintended consequences would be far reaching, not the least of which include undercutting state and local government efforts that protect our fish, wildlife, and outdoor traditions.
Submitted by: David Nickum, Colorado Trout Unlimited, Denver; Nick Payne, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Denver; Aaron Kindle, National Wildlife Federation, Salida and Brien Webster, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Grand Junction.