House considers devastating public lands takeover bills

Alaska's Tongass National Forest.

Credit: Joseph, flickr.

New House bills being considered this week epitomize the radical campaign to wrest national public lands from the American people, including a proposal that encourages state seizure of national forests for logging.

A hearing hosted on Feb. 25 by the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Federal Lands showcased legislation that would severely undermine national public lands, elevating industrial uses over the conservation and protection of our parks, refuges, and forests.

More: Keep America’s public lands in public hands

The three bills discussed in the hearing are part of a growing campaign at the local and national levels to seize more of America’s public lands for private gain:

  • The Self Sufficient Community Lands Act (H.R. 2316, introduced by Rep. Raul Labrador) would allow state governors to appoint “advisory committees” of industry leaders-to make management decisions on national forest land. Under these new advisory committees, up to 4 millions acres of forests would be exempt from key conservation laws meant to protect and care for them. This move to shift public land management to a few special interest groups would mark an unprecedented subversion of the way we treat public lands owned by all Americans.
  • The State National Forest Management Act (H.R. 3650, introduced by Rep. Don Young) would authorize states to seize millions of acres of national forest land from the U.S. Forest Service and prioritize those lands for logging. This bill would circumvent bedrock environmental laws and effectively take a great, wild national resource--forests prized for wildlife habitat, clean water and outdoor recreation, among many other values--and treat it as merely a means to clear cut more trees for lumber.
  • The Utah Test and Training Range Encroachment Prevention and Temporary Closure Act (H.R. 4579, introduced by Rep. Chris Stewart) would encourage road construction and development in wilderness-quality areas of Utah. Specifically, the bill would take thousands of miles of rights-of-way on federal land and give that land to Utah counties.  These rights-of-way, some of which cross roadless wilderness or potential wilderness lands, were never intended to be developed as roads.

Land seizure movement remains dangerous, antithetical to public lands tradition

In the last few years, local disputes, including armed standoffs, have commanded headlines, but these national bills in Congress underscore that the public lands takeover effort now extends all the way to Washington DC.

"We need to work together to ensure that our forests, parks, and public lands continue to be managed on behalf of all Americans..." -Rep. Niki Tsongas

For years, industrial interests have waged a campaign pressuring state governments to seize national forests, refuges, wilderness and Bureau of Land Management lands so they can be privatized or auctioned for drilling, mining and logging. In 2015, this damaging idea of reversing “America’s best idea” spread to Congress, with anti-conservationists in the Senate and House assuming the land seizure mantle.

This radical notion of locking up public lands limits Americans’ freedom to enjoy the great outdoors. If this extremist movement succeeds, we could lose access to our most treasured places and mar our amazingly diverse cultural and natural heritage.

In an opening statement delivered at the hearing, Ranking Subcommittee Member Rep. Niki Tsongas pushed back against the land takeover rhetoric, defending the ideals of public lands and pointing to the need for nonpartisan collaboration. 

"Debates over public land management don’t have to divide the country into ideological or regional camps," Tsongas said. "We need to work together to ensure that our forests, parks, and public lands continue to be managed on behalf of all Americans in a manner that reflects the federal government’s important commitment to balance conservation for future generations with sustainable productivity."

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