Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge (Hawaii), which would potentially be subject to state seizure under a recent proposal.
Credit: NomadicStateOfMind, flickr.
Lawmakers are bowing to special interest groups, attempting to forward the sale or transfer of public lands including wilderness areas, wildlife refuges and national forests to state and local governments. This would allow the seizure of some of our most treasured places to be turned over to the states and sold for oil and gas drilling, mining, logging and other development.
The most recent attack came March 26, when the Senate passed an amendment that would fund potentially unconstitutional state efforts to seize and sell America’s national forests, wildlife refuges, wilderness areas, and other cherished sites.
Senate Amendment 838, sponsored by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), was part of a larger debate over the fiscal year 2016 budget that included a host of amendments threatening to damaged bedrock environmental laws like the Antiquities Act.
"Were heading into the full appropriations process with every intention of keeping these kinds of public land giveaway bills off the agenda.”
The public lands sell-off amendment would support ongoing efforts by some states and local governments to seize federal public lands, including national wildlife refuges, national forests and some wilderness. Those lands could then potentially be closed for hiking, camping or other outdoor recreation—and opened up to private interests for oil and gas drilling, mining, logging and other development.
White Mountain National Forest (New Hampshire). Credit: Bob Nichols (USDA), flickr.
While the resolution and its amendments are non-binding, the approval sent a clear message that our public lands are not safe from special interests.
“This outright attack on America’s shared natural legacy was a farce from the beginning—squandering the time Congress is supposed to be voting on a clean budget resolution with a vote on state takeover of our wildlife refuges, forests, and wilderness lands that Americans simply don’t support,” said Alan Rowsome, senior director of government relations for lands at The Wilderness Society. “The only reason this sell-off amendment even passed was because committee leadership twisted the arms of colleagues in a drawn-out vote that should never have been allowed. We’re heading into the full appropriations process with every intention of keeping these kinds of public land giveaway bills off the agenda.”
Hope for keeping American lands public?
While S.A. 838 passed the Senate, it did so only narrowly, and only after protracted political maneuvering by Sen. Murkowski. This offers a glimmer of hope, and proof that we need to keep fighting this new wave of attacks.
A September 2014 poll found that 72 percent of voters said they consider public lands to be “American places that belong to everyone in our country,” as opposed to places that belong more to residents of specific states.
A poll conducted in February by Colorado College found similar results: by more than a 2:1 ratio, voters in six of the interior western states agreed that public lands belong to all Americans, not just residents of a particular state.
We will keep working in Washington to ensure that lawmakers hear your voices: America’s public lands need to stay in public hands—your hands.