Our opinion: Beware the false promises of 'states rights'
The next time you decide to visit a national forest or park, you might want to check before you make your travel plans.
This is because a handful of Republicans in western states want the feds to transfer ownership of our public lands to the states, which Wes Siler, writing for Outdoors Online, said is "a thinly-veiled attempt to force their sale for purposes of resource exploitation."
In June, Republicans on the House committee on Natural Resources passed HR 3650, which reads: "This bill directs the Department of Agriculture, through the Forest Service, to convey to a state up to 2 million acres of eligible portions of the National Forest System (NFS) in it that it elects to acquire through enactment by the state legislature of a bill meeting certain criteria. Portions of the NFS conveyed to a state shall be administered and managed primarily for timber production."
One Republican on the committee and all the Democratic legislators opposed the bill.
This is land that many of us, on a regular basis, visit to camp, fish, hike, paddle, hunt and swim.
"Last year, SA 838, which called for the sale of national forests and other public lands, was also unanimously supported by Republicans, and unanimously opposed by everyone else," notes Siler.
But slipping in the provision about timber production is a smokescreen, contends Siler, pointing out that in 2014 alone, the fed earned more than $202 million from selling timber from national forests. This is really about "states rights" and their ability to sell what is now public land to the highest bidder for the extraction of resources other than timber.
According to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel, notes Siler, who has spoken out strongly against the heist, states couldn't even afford the annual firefighting budget such large tracts of land require, positively guaranteeing their sale to private interests.
While selling public land to the resource extraction industry would line the coffers of states around the country, writes Siler, the outdoor recreation industry alone, which relies on land access to exist, employs 6.1 million Americans and contributes $650 billion to the economy annually.
"Make no mistake, these are the first votes on legislation that would legitimize the wholesale transfer or sale of America's public lands," said Whit Fosburgh, the CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
Organizations with green-washed names, such as the American Lands Council and Property and Environment Research Center, have introduced dozens of bills in 11 western states that demand that the public "turn over" millions of acres of public land to state governments.
But if you dig a little deeper you might learn that the bane of the American progressive movement, the Koch Brothers, are behind the movement. According to PoliticsUSA, like many of the Koch-funded projects, this public lands heist has been in the works for decades, in this case, since 1999. PERC asserts that, "land should be allocated to the highest-valued use, transaction costs should be kept to a minimum because auctioning off all public lands will enhance environmental quality and economic efficiency through private rather than public ownership."
But according to the Wilderness Society, "That our public lands should be open to everyone to experience is one of our nation's proudest and most sacred traditions. ... You own these lands. They have been set aside for you and your family — to experience freedom, find respite in nature, learn about our history, and pass these wild wonders on to future generations of Americans. Let's not allow short-sighted special interests steal that legacy from all of us, or from our children and grandchildren."
So here's another thing to think about when you go to cast your ballot on Nov. 8, while Republican nominee for president Donald Trump has gone on the record of opposing land transfers, saying "This is magnificent land," do we really trust him to keep his promise? We believe our public lands are too precious to place at the mercy of a president who has a history of making short-sighted business decisions that put lots of money in the pockets of the few. He also has a history of bankruptcy, and we surely do not want him bankrupting the spirit that roams our public lands.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.