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Time to Go On Offense to Protect Our Cherished Public Lands
Unlike most every other country, America has a huge backyard. The federal public lands of the western United States are the equivalent of a giant commons that everyone can enjoy. Whether you’re a New Englander sightseeing in the Grand Canyon while on vacation or a Wyoming resident fishing the backcountry of your home state, western public lands are one of the biggest public playgrounds in the world.
Not only do these lands provide boundless outdoor recreation opportunities for a vast variety of user groups, but they also provide inexpensive livestock grazing; are sources of wind, gas and oil energy; generate revenue for local economies; provide robust habitat for fish and wildlife; and are great sources of clean air and pure water. Our public lands – from national parks and forests to wilderness areas and wildlife refuges – are one of our nation’s greatest treasures, as highlighted by a recent NWF report.
Despite a historical commitment to these public lands from presidents as diverse as Ronald Regan and Jimmy Carter, there are some federal and state politicians who regularly seek to maximize short-term profit for extraction industries and private individuals on public lands rather than long-term benefits for the entire American public. Unfortunately, these misguided efforts have ramped up in the last couple years.
For example, in April the U.S. House passed a budget that included a rider to sell off public lands, another bill passed by the House would massively increase timber operations on public lands, and yet another bill passed by the House last week would minimize public input from the oil-and-gas-leasing process on public lands. Perhaps even worse, the Republican National Committee made disposing of public lands part of the 2014 party platform.
At the state level, Utah recently signed into law a measure to demand federal public lands be given to the state, the Arizona Legislature passed a similar law that was vetoed by the Governor, and similar bills were introduced in New Mexico and Wyoming, with other land-grab bills introduced in Idaho and Colorado. At the Montana Republican Platform Convention held recently, the states GOP unanimously passed a resolution in favor of snatching public lands, and a recent convention with officials from nine states was held to strategize on to how wrest public lands away from the American public. To see the face of these land-seizing officials check out this website.
All these land-grab attempts are being made despite the fact that public polling shows the vast majority of people want federal lands to remain in federal hands, and that sentiment is growing stronger. A Colorado College poll released this year reported that three-fourths of voters are now opposed to selling off public lands as a way to reduce the budget deficit, while just 19% of voters support this. Intensity is against it, as 58% say they are strongly opposed to selling off public lands. The poll notes that this is a significant increase from 2013. Opposition has increased the most among rural residents, Latinos, and sportsmen.
Up until now there was little for those us to do who value our public lands other than shake our heads in chagrin and lambast those making the ill-begotten effort to sell public land. The defensive attacks against these land grabs range from Constitutional and legal to financial and ethical, which are summed up well in this article.
Had enough of playing defense? Well, it’s now time to go on the offensive. Montana Senator John Walsh recently introduced a bill that would take what little wind these land grabbers have out of their sails. Senate Resolution 483, the “resolution establishing a point of order against legislation selling federal land in order to reduce the deficit,” is co-sponsored by New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich and Colorado Senator Mark Udall. The measure would require a supermajority vote – 60 out of 100 senators – on any legislation that would sell off federal lands.
Now is the time to say enough is enough. We will not tolerate our public lands going to the highest bidder for short term profits! Please make a personal call to the senators in your state, telling them to support S.R. 483. You can also take action quickly and easily online now by signing our petition to tell Congress that you value our public lands, and you don’t want them targeting our big backyard for sales to individuals and industries.