Across the West, a dangerous movement of radical fringe groups and oil, mining and other development interests are buying off politicians to “transfer” America’s federal wildlands to the states where they can be sold to private companies for profit.
National Forests like Mt. Hood National Forest have been part of 'public land takeover' proposals in Oregon. Credit: Ryan Ludwig, flickr.
Oregon became a prominent part of the public land takeover story in early 2016, when a group of armed radicals seized Malheur National Wildlife Refuge for 41 days, ostensibly to protest the federal estate. The movement that kicked into high gear with that incident has since spread to the Bundy family's ideological comrades in state legislatures, and even to Washington DC, where it influences many anti-conservation members of Congress.
Unfortunately, while Oregonians love the outdoors, there have been a number of attempts at the local level to seize national forests and other public lands and transfer them to state management. In the Oregon legislature, a bill was recently introduced to establish a task force to study land takeovers, as well as various measures and resolutions to actually transfer control of public lands.
We cannot allow the insidious land takeover movement to gain a foothold in Oregon. Here are just a few reasons why:
1) Oregon's public lands might no longer be accessible to all: If "land takeover" attempts were to succeed, they would break with the cherished national tradition that public lands should be open to everyone to experience. State-owned lands are managed to generate revenue--as opposed to national public lands presided over by federal agencies, which are managed for multiple uses including recreation and conservation of wildlife habitat. Ultimately, moving national public lands to state control could mean that some open trails and scenic views in our most treasured parks, wilderness, and national monuments may be marred by ‘no trespassing’ signs.
2) Public land seizure could hurt Oregon's economy: Public land itself is a big component of Oregon's economy. Each year, outdoor recreation in the state generates $12.8 billion in consumer spending, directly supporting 141,000 jobs ($4 billion in wages and salaries). A lot of that activity takes place on public lands—and if people are suddenly barred from some of their favorite spots, it will mean less money going to local communities.
3) Everyday Oregonians value Our Wild and want it to stay public: It is clear that Oregonians love public lands and want them to stay protected and accessible to all. Research has repeatedly shown that natural beauty and outdoor recreation opportunities are among the things they value most in their communities, and 55 percent of Oregonians oppose having state government and taxpayers assume control of managing public lands.
Sportsmen, business leaders, rational elected officials and conservationists are standing together to prevent land seizure measures from becoming law. But they need support to show politicians that Americans won’t tolerate efforts to privatize Our Wild in Montana or elsewhere. The threat is real, and now is the time to stand up to it.