Arizona's Sen. Jeff Flake has introduced a land sell-off bill despite the fact that most voters in his state oppose such measures.
Credit: Gage Skidmore, flickr.
In the halls of Congress, the public land takeover fringe persists—no matter how many people soundly reject its core goals. Nevada Rep. Mark Amodei and Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake are the latest lawmakers to introduce new bills that further this radical cause, seemingly heedless of whether the American people support it.
Amodei's bill, the innocently named Small Tracts Conveyance Act, would give some national forest and Bureau of Land Management lands away to private landowners and state governments who own neighboring land. It is very common for public land to border private land; this proposal could tear a huge amount of public land out of America's hands in one fell swoop.
Sen. Flake's legislation—the specifics of which have not yet been released--would push the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to sell off at least 6,000 acres of public land in northwestern Arizona.
Earth to Congress: Voters want to keep Our Wild public lands in public hands
It is already fairly clear that Americans at-large don't like land takeover schemes. Recent polling shows 78 percent of voters oppose efforts to privatize or sell public lands, including 64 percent of those who voted for Donald Trump.
But if that isn't enough for Amodei or Flake, they might want to poll their own constituents:
Last year, a survey of Nevada residents showed that a majority opposed the state taking over national public lands. In both 2016 and 2017, most in the state identified lack of resources to take care of public lands as a “serious” problem, and this would surely be exacerbated by a proposal like Amodei's.
In Arizona, too, a majority of voters oppose the state taking over public lands, and 70 percent oppose selling off lands. The state park system already struggles to pay for maintenance and improvements, and Governor Jan Brewer vetoed a major "land takeover" bill in 2012 partly due to concerns over the economic "uncertainty" that such a change would create.
Another "Four Corners" state, Utah, has been ground zero for land takeover schemes that meet with vocal public disapproval. Lawmakers in the state have sustained heavy criticism for proposals to seize national public lands and make them less safe.
The bottom line is that even in the West, where the then-nascent land takeover movement bubbled up through state legislatures before heading to Washington DC, people want to keep public lands public. From New Mexico to Idaho to Utah, they have been crowding state capitol buildings and town hall meetings to make their voices heard. Now, the hard part: Making sure our leaders actually listen.
How to help: Don't let the federal budget fund land sell-offs
While Amodei, Flake and others push the anti-public lands agenda, Utah Rep. Rob Bishop, arguably the dean of all anti-conservation lawmakers, is peddling a proposal to use $50 million in taxpayer money to facilitate the same thing.
We need to tell members of Congress who are key to the federal budget process—especially Reps. Rodney Frelinghuysen, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and Ken Calvert, the chairman of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee—that Rep. Bishop's proposal is a bad idea.