If you were shocked and angered by Chaffetz’s bill to dispose of public lands, then you should know about these less blatant—but similarly dangerous—legislative moves
Last week, sportsmen flooded Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) with phone calls, letters, tweets, and Facebook messages about his perennially unpopular and dangerous public lands bill, H.R. 621. Shortly after, he withdrew the legislation that would have enabled the sale of 3.3 million acres of public lands.
We celebrated. We were reminded that our voices have power. Then, we went back to work.
Here’s the thing: The tug-of-war between Americans who are proud to have 640 million acres of public lands as their birthright and those who seek to undermine these lands has never been tied to one individual bill, state, or lawmaker—it’s a longstanding ideological battle that puts conservation, access, and our hunting and fishing traditions on the line.Give them an inch and they’ll take millions of acres. #PublicLandsProud Click To Tweet
And, because D.C. politics are hardly ever as simple as black and white, the intent to transfer or sell public lands isn’t always explicitly stated in a bill’s title. Threats can take many forms, but we’re good at reading between the lines. Here are ten other legislative actions that would dismantle our public lands heritage, piece by piece.
The Other Chaffetz Bill
In addition to the bill he withdrew last week, self-reported “gun owner, hunter and public lands enthusiast” Rep. Chaffetz (R-Utah) also introduced the “Local Enforcement for Local Lands Act” (H.R. 622) as a measure to pull funding for federal public-land law enforcement. This bill is still alive in Congress and has six co-sponsors.
The Forest Fire Sale Bill
The “State National Forest Management Act of 2017” (H.R. 232), introduced by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), would take two million acres of National Forest System land away from Americans to be managed solely for timber production (read: short-term profit.) Just a friendly reminder that this could transfer management of all of Pennsylvania’s Allegheny National Forest to the state.
The Sneaky Sage Grouse Bill
Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho) introduced legislation that would give state officials full authority over state and federal conservation plans to restore sage-grouse habitat. This might sound mild, but don’t be fooled—transferring control of management plans is a back door to transferring control of the land itself. This would be “an unprecedented shift of management responsibility that erodes the implementation of bedrock conservation statutes,” according to Ed Arnett, our senior scientist. Congressman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) introduced a near-identical bill last year, too.
The One That Strips Back Public Input
Alarmingly, the House just passed a resolution that could eliminate the Bureau of Land Management’s ability to update their planning regulations ever again. Embedded in a resolution to reverse significant improvements to land-use planning, which give sportsmen more say, is the potential to strip authority and flexibility away from the BLM—a key public lands agency. If lawmakers are successful in overturning the recent updates, the BLM will be forced to revert back to a decades-old planning process that doesn’t take into account the most cutting edge science and data on critical habitat like wildlife migration corridors and seasonal ranges. It moves to the Senate next—stay tuned.
If you’re still fired up over H.R. 621, turn your ire on lawmakers who want to roll back your input on public lands. We made you this quick and easy tool for contacting your elected officials. Then, call your representatives and urge them to oppose all attempts to undermine federal public lands ownership.
The Zombie from Nevada
At the end of each year, Congress drops the bills that didn’t pass—but they often get reintroduced in the same form (H.R. 621 was actually one of these) or repackaged as something less obvious. The “Honor the Nevada Enabling Act of 1864 Act,” previously introduced by Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nev.), is certain to come up again. This is an explicit attempt to transfer federal public lands in Nevada to state ownership—at which point public access could be barred. We’ll keep you updated through our newsletter and social media.
The One Where the Math Doesn’t Add Up
Last year, the “Self-Sufficiency Community Lands Act” passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee, but didn’t make it to a floor vote. It never should have made it that far. Introduced by Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), the bill would have given management authority for large segments of our national forests to “advisory committees”—no previous professional experience in forest management would be required on these committees. Conservation and access would surely be an afterthought to generating revenue, but the financial burden of wildfire management would still be on the American taxpayer.
If you’re still fired up over H.R. 621, sign the Sportsmen’s Access petition and make sure that lawmakers across the country can do the math on a bill like this one.
The State Bills
Bills at the federal level aren’t the only place we see shots fired at public lands. There are clear examples of state legislators easing the skids for public land transfer in Oregon, Washington, and Utah. Even in Missouri a resolution encouraging transfer of Western federal lands to the states is making its way through the state legislature.
If you’re still fired up over H.R. 621, join your local chapter of Trout Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, or another sportsman’s group you trust to keep a bead on your local elected officials.
Sportsmen Must Remain Vigilant
It’s easy to get complacent as long as these threats never really come to a head. But as we saw with H.R. 621, the only place for a bill that would dispose of our American public lands legacy is off the books, knocked down by public outcry and political backlash.
Give them an inch and they’ll take millions of acres. Let your elected officials know our public lands are not for sale.