Report: state legislatures are trying to open federal wild lands to development

Grand Canyon National Park was set to become Grand Canyon State Park before Arizona voters rejected the ballot initiative

flickr, YoTuT

Can you imagine America's most treasured lands being subject to the whims of state politics?

The Center for American Progress's recent report called "State Efforts to 'Reclaim' Our Public Lands" describes this persistent threat to American wild lands.

Despite a recent poll that reveals the popular support of wild lands in the West, legislators in several of these states have attempted to turn federal lands back to state management. This means states would be able to lease or sell these lands to oil and gas developers who would attempt to profit from them. 

Although none of these efforts have been completely successful as of yet, if any of these laws do successfully pass and run their course, then wild lands in those states may no longer be available for all Americans to enjoy, many of whom support local economies through their recreation and tourism. For example, a ballot initiative proposed to turn Grand Canyon National park into a state park, but fortunately was defeated by Arizona voters.

Here's a few examples:

  • In Utah, the Transfer of Public Lands Act and Related Study was signed into law last March, which specified that the federal government has to turn over nearly 20 million acres of public lands to the state by 2014, or it will sue.
  • After Governor Jan Brewer vetoed a similar bill in Arizona, voters also thankfully defeated a ballot initiative that would have turned public lands, including the Grand Canyon, over to the state. 
  • The Colorado state legislature attempted to revive a previously failed bill this year, which would have required the federal government to turn over all “agricultural lands” to the state including more than 14 million acres of national forests and likely also Bureau of Land Management lands, but fortunately it failed in committee in early February.
  • Wyoming Rep. David Miller took inspiration from Utah and introduced a bill in early February that would require the state attorney general to research avenues for forcing the federal government to turn over their lands to the state and would establish a task force focused on such land transfer. After already passing both houses, the bill is now awaiting the governor’s signature.
  • A similar bill has been introduced in New Mexico this year: the Transfer of Public Land Act, which has yet to be voted on.
  • Nevada is also following Utah's lead, though the bill is still being drafted for the 2013 legislative session.
  • Similar efforts in Idaho are less likely to take hold, however, especially given voters' previous outrage when the Governor once expressed support for such legislation. 

The Center for America Progress concludes that not only would these legislative efforts be financially unwise for states, but that the proposed bills are unconstitutional. Even if these endeavors wind up being in vain, they demonstrate the ongoing threats that Americans' wild lands face.

This is why The Wilderness Society pursues its mission so steadfastly. We hope you will join our own efforts to keep our nation's most precious lands wild and free from these threats.


Read the full report below:

State Efforts to ‘Reclaim’ Our Public Lands by Center for American Progress


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