UPDATE: Congress backs down on plan to sell off public land the size of Connecticut

© Pat Bagley

UPDATE: Yesterday this post was titled Congress moves to sell off public land the size of Connecticut but it turns out that the voices of the people who actually use public land are loud and powerful. According to Reuters,

Republican U.S. Congressman Jason Chaffetz said on Thursday he plans to withdraw a bill that would have sold off more than 3 million acres of federal land to private interests after it drew a barrage of negative comments from hunters and outdoor enthusiasts...."I’m a proud gun owner, hunter and love our public lands,” the Utah representative said in a comment, beneath a photo he posted of himself outdoors wearing hunting gear and holding a dog. “I hear you and HR 621 dies tomorrow.”

Apparently "Sportsmen and women, hunting groups, and outdoor gear retailers had flooded Chaffetz's Instagram account with thousands of posts, urging him to "say no to HR 621" and to "#keepitpublic." The resistance across the board was very loud:

"I don’t think anybody had expected the backlash that has happened as a result of these bills. People are upset out here in the west and it is one of the hottest political issues in western states," said Brad Brooks, Idaho Deputy Regional Director for the Wilderness Society.

Original post:

There are many who believe that public land is there to serve the public good, whether it be forestry and mining that create jobs, pasturing of animals, or for recreation. But there are apparently many others who think that the government has no business being in the land ownership business, and are trying to get the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to sell it off. According to Caty Enders in Guardian, US representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah has introduced a bill….

…to immediately sell off an area of public land the size of Connecticut. In a press release for House Bill 621, Chaffetz, a Tea Party Republican, claimed that the 3.3m acres of national land, maintained by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), served “no purpose for taxpayers”.

(This writer must admit that almost everything I know about Utah I learned from following the editorial cartoons of Pat Bagley at the Salt Lake Tribune, who has been absolutely devastating in his coverage of the attacks on the environment in Utah by Chaffetz and others, and whose cartoons are used here with permission.)

Hunters, fisher people and conservationists are appalled.

“Last I checked, hunters and fishermen were taxpayers,” said [hunter Jason] Amaro, who lives in a New Mexico county where 70,000 acres of federal lands are singled out. In total, his state, which sees $650m in economic activity from hunting and fishing, stands to lose 800,000 acres of BLM land, or more than the state of Rhode Island.

Even Republicans in Chaffetz’s own state are objecting to this, as one noted earlier in the Salt Lake Tribune:

"Selling off our public lands to reduce the deficit would be like selling the house to pay the light bill," said Philip Carlson, Utah coordinator for the group Republicans for Environmental Protection. "America's public lands are a lasting endowment that supports local economies. They're magnets that attract sportsmen, backcountry trail riders, hikers and campers year after year. It makes no sense to sell off this endowment, especially in a down economy."

An earlier article in the Guardian notes that this has long been Republican policy.

Giving away national land has been part of the Republican Party platform since the mid-80s, after Reagan declared himself a Sagebrush Rebel, but it’s regained steam in the past few years as 20 states have introduced some form of legislation suggesting that federal property be given to local governments.

The attitude apparently is that “Washington bureaucrats don’t listen to people.Local governments do.” Fortunately there is still a lot of opposition from both parties and might not even be legal.

Chaffetz’s proposal might in fact be in violation of the common-law Public Trust Doctrine, which requires that the federal government keep and manage national resources for all Americans. Courts have upheld the policy that sale or use must be in Americans’ interest.

Of course these days, anything can happen. More in the Guardian

UPDATE: Congress backs down on plan to sell off public land the size of Connecticut
New bill by Republicans is uniting hunters and conservationists (including Republicans) in opposition, and the opposition worked.

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