The debate surrounding public lands continues to rage inside the Beltway on the heels of the first Congressional session of the year. A new House Bill (H.R. 621) introduced by Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) on January 24 aims to sell 3.3 million acres of public land scattered around 10 western states. The Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act seeks to sell federal land in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming that “have been deemed to serve no purpose for taxpayers.”
The land targeted has been previously identified as “suitable for sale to non-federal entities” by the Clinton Administration, calling for its “responsible disposal.” As of now, the tracts of land targeted have not been publicly identified.
“The long overdue disposal of excess federal lands will free up resources for the federal government while providing much-needed opportunities for economic development in struggling rural communities,” Chaffetz said in a news release.
It seems the politicians on Capitol Hill have forgotten to whom the land actually belongs. You, me and every other citizen of this country. Public ground is simply managed by the federal government. What right does Congress have to decide that your land serves no purpose to you?
Chaffetz also introduced H.R. 622, which would “terminate the law enforcement functions of the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and to provide block grants to the states for the enforcement of federal law on federal land under the jurisdiction of these agencies, and for other purposes.” This would mean law enforcement on BLM and Forest Service lands would be the responsibility of local officials. The Utah Republican argues the bill would work to restore local law enforcement.
What’s more, earlier in the month, House Republicans altered the process of how Congress calculates the cost of transferring federal lands to the states and other entities. By doing so, it’s now easier for Congress to give up control of public lands. Proponents of selling federal land argue that local control of the properties would better take into account the needs of nearby residents. However, critics have voiced concerns that once federal land is transferred to states, some of which may not have sufficient funding to manage the properties, those officials could sell the land to private developers.
You don’t have to sit back and watch your public land sell to the highest bidder. Take action. Call your local representative today and tell them you disagree with the decision to sell federal lands. And while you’re at it, consider partnering with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, both of which work tirelessly everyday to keep public lands in your hands.