Hope: Bipartisan support for measure to keep public lands in public hands

Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge (Colorado).

Credit: Patricia Montanez (USFWS), flickr.

An amendment seeking to keep public lands in public hands drew support from both sides of the aisle in Congress. At the same time, the final tally gave cause to question the motives of some lawmakers.

Amid a broad legislative package to pay for the federal government over the coming fiscal year, an amendment offered by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) on Sept. 13 sought to confirm a foundational aspect of the American experience, lately under fire: that public lands should stay public.  

Polis' amendment, which would prohibit funding for land seizures against the public interest, didn't pass, but it did highlight a growing insurgency that rejects the Trump-era political emphasis on seizing wildlands for state, private or industrial enrichment. More than a dozen Republicans supported the measure, doubling the number of affirmative votes from that side of the aisle since a nearly identical amendment failed in 2016. 

Act now: See how your representative voted and hold them accountable

At the same time that the most vocal anti-conservation lawmakers are ramping up their attacks (a relevant example: the recently considered "Federal Lands Freedom Act," which greases the skids for states to drill on public lands with less oversight), some politicians are waking up to how vital our public lands truly are. So make no mistake: this counts as encouraging news. Courageous lawmakers have re-affirmed that some wildlands should be protected for the enjoyment of all Americans.  

Troublingly, some alleged public lands supporters opposed amendment 

Despite this bright spot, the radical 'public land takeover' movement remains a huge threat. And in some ways, the vote on the Polis amendment lent further insight on the extent to which it remains a stealth presence on the national stage. To wit, several House members who have claimed to reject public land takeovers voted against the amendment. Their constituents deserve clarification on exactly where they stand.  

Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge (Colorado). Credit: USFWS, flickr.

The "land takeover" fringe aims to dismantle our grand American system of protected lands, removing large swaths from the protective shield of federal agencies like the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management so that they can be taken over by state governments--and potentially sold to oil, mining and logging companies. It is important that we have elected officials willing to speak out against such attempts, but even more vital that they follow through by making policy that inhibits them.