Why Some Western Slope Sportsmen Are Unhappy With John Salazar

August 2010

Congressman John Salazar is facing criticism from hunters and fishermen in western Colorado over a proposed land swap that would benefit William Koch, a billionaire from Florida who has given to Salazar's political campaign, reports The Associated Press. Critics say the deal---involving land along Deep Creek in Gunnison County, not far from a coal mine held by Koch---smacks of favoritism. Koch and employees from his Oxbow Corporation comprise the largest contributors to Salazar, a Democrat representing the state's 3rd Congressional District, giving more than $30,000 to his campaigns since 2007. A spokesman for Salazar says the congressman wanted to help constituents when he proposed swapping the more than 1,800 acres, now under federal management, for about 1,000 acres owned by Koch. But outdoorsmen say the swap would allow Salazar's major donor to link two huge parcels of land into a private ranch closed to hunters and anglers.

"This is some of the best elk-hunting land in the state, and for them to want to close it off, it's a crime," says John Caven, a 63-year-old plumber from Crawford, who put an ad in his local paper asking residents to oppose the measure in Congress. The Denver Post points out that Salazar introduced a bill back in April giving Koch, an energy baron, about 1,840 acres of Bureau of Land Management land and a three-acre slice of federal forest land in Gunnison County. In exchange, Koch would give the National Park Service 991 acres in Dinosaur National Monument and the Curecanti National Recreation Area. Senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, both Democrats, filed a companion measure in the Senate. The National Park Service supports the swap because it will ensure protection of two valuable pieces of land that otherwise could be developed, but other federal officials oppose the measure, saying it could leave Koch with land of higher value, particularly in terms of potential energy development.