Congress cooks up 'working group' aimed at giving away your lands

Bad ideas die hard, as they say. In the West, that bad idea is state seizure of shared national lands.

In the latest chapter of an ill-advised and politically unpopular effort to attack our shared natural heritage, a House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (UT) is corralling his anti-conservation allies in Congress to form a congressional working group aimed at finding ways to hand over America’s public lands to states and special interests.  

Launched in late April, the stated goal of the Federal Land Action Group is to explore opportunities for Congressional action designed to transfer American lands to states. 

Sign the petition: Keep public lands in public hands

The working group represents the latest episode in a larger trend in Congress and many states in the West to seize public lands for private interests. Fueled by special interest groups financed by the oil and gas industry, the movement seeks to transfer lands to states where they can be privatized and sold for mining, timber, oil and gas drilling and other development.

If these efforts succeed, wild public lands that belong to all Americans could be sold and forever altered. Americans may find themselves locked out of their favorite places to camp, hike, hunt and fish. Instead of finding open trails, Americans may find ‘no trespassing’ signs on the lands that they rightfully own, including in some of the magnificent Western lands that people travel from all over the states to visit on annual road trips and hiking adventures. 

This new working group speaks to a broader agenda in this Congress and throughout numerous states to undermine conservation and deny Americans’ rights to access beloved public lands that belong to all of us, whether we live in Massachusetts or Montana, Alaska or Arizona.

In the West this year, nearly half a dozen states from Alaska to Utah have launched local efforts to try to transfer American lands to state control. Residents are pushing back on these state-driven efforts, but this bad idea is now being discussed on Capitol Hill. Recently, the U.S. Senate approved a budget amendment (S.A. 838) that would facilitate the transfer or sale of national forests, wilderness areas and wildlife refuges to states.  Also, a budget resolution in the House of Representatives expressed support for ”decreasing the federal estate,” which in essence, means taking them away from all Americans and turning them over to be privatized.

State land seizure campaigns are part of a well-funded effort to sabotage bedrock conservation laws that protect our clean air, drinking water, and wildlife—and places for us all to enjoy the great outdoors. They are driven in part by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization which is funded heavily by the Koch brothers and revenue from the extractive industry

The Wilderness Society is leading the resistance to these dangerous efforts that ignore the rights of all Americans to access lands they own and safeguard them for future generations.

Our national forests, wildlife refuges, parks, and public lands are part of our national identity.  They should be open to everyone to experience and enjoy—not sold off to the highest bidder. 

Sign the petition: Keep public lands in public hands

See also: Learn how privatization threatens your lands