UPDATE: As of this morning, February 2, Congressman Chaffetz has pulled his bill, citing the large public backlash against it. On his instragram page (@jasoninthehouse) he posted a photo of himself with his hunting dog, he said "I hear you and HR 621 dies tomorrow." Thank you to everyone who emailed, called or otherwise voiced your dissent and desire to stop any attempts to transfer public lands.
Jason Chaffetz, Republican Congressman from Utah, has introduced two new bills in an attempt to accelerate a public land grab. The first, H.R.621, aims to sell or dispose of 3.3 million acres of public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The second, H.R.622, is a plan to terminate the ability of BLM and the U.S. Forest Service to enforce federal law on federal lands, and instead transfer that power to the states where that land is located. The bills were entered into the House Committee on Natural Resources for its consideration. In the case of H.R.622, the bill was co-sponsored by six other republican legislators from California, Arizona, Utah and Nevada.
The land transfer efforts are nothing new. When the Bundy family and its supporters occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge last year, their goal was to effect the sale of federal lands to states in a move that could be described as being at the barrel of a gun. And when the Republican National Committee adopted the party platform ahead of the presidential election, it called for a land transfer as well. However, President Trump and Rep. Ryan Zinke, his nominee for the Department of the Interior, have both said they are not in support of transferring public lands to states. But given the many political moves the Trump Administration has made in the first two weeks of his presidency, these bills may have a chance of being passed while republicans control both the Senate and House of Representatives.
And make no mistake, passing these bills makes absolutely zero sense. When Wyoming looked into the benefits of transferring federal land in the state to be managed by state authorities, it determined it was a losing proposition. States are required to balance their budgets, while federal agencies are not. And while that may create an argument that government spending is wasteful, in the case of state management of large tracts of land, it means that land transferred to their control would have to be sold off to private owners.
Sean Stevens, Executive Director of Oregon Wild, has decried the risks of public land transfer for years. "You have to wonder what corporate backers Republicans in Congress are sucking up to with these privatizations bills, because people all across America and the West have resoundingly told Congress they want public lands to remain in public hands," Stevens said after Chaffetz issued the two bills. "Combined, these two bills undermine the values that Americans see reflected in their public lands while, unbelievably, putting users of these lands at risk by stripping federal law enforcement capability on BLM and Forest Service lands. With anti-government sentiment already evident with the Malheur occupation and further fomentation by the Trump Administration, we need front line rangers on public lands now more than ever."
There's another perspective by which you can look at these bills. If you have spent considerable time in the outdoors recently, you've also likely experienced more people than ever at your favorite trailheads. 2016 was a banner year for outdoor participation, with visitation to national parks, state parks, and national forests higher than ever. Many outdoor clubs and conservation groups have pushed for the need to spread out crowds to reduce impacts on the most overused places, an effort we support at Outdoor Project. The thought of privatizing these lands now flies in the face of the masses who are showing their enthusiasm for public lands with their feet, and their wallets. Recreation is a renewable economy, extraction isn't. While the new administration sees greatness in oil and gas development, those of us who find fulfillment in mountains, forests, rivers, lakes and beaches know that the greatness lies in these places staying in a condition that we can pass down from generation to generation.
Incredibly, a recent rule change means that the federal government wouldn't need to determine the costs of transferring federal lands to other entities, hence the word "disposal" used in the title of H.R.621. But there is still plenty we can do to voice our disapproval of the trashing of our right to access public lands. Email and call your elected officials (you can find your representative here). You can also read more at Protect Our Public Land. Let's make it known that these bills and any transfer of public land is not something we're going to let happen without a fight.
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