Public Land Grabs Move from States to Congress
CHEYENNE, Wyo. - Just two weeks after armed militants were ousted from the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, the U.S. House of Representatives is considering legislation to allow states to seize national lands for drilling and logging without federal environmental oversight.
Earlier this month, the Wyoming Sportsmen's Alliance and conservation groups convinced state lawmakers to shelve similar proposals. Chamois Andersen, executive director of the Wyoming National Wildlife Federation, said western states are on the front lines of a national struggle.
"In Wyoming, we're seeing what's actually happening across the American West," she said, "which is a political movement, an attempt to transfer public lands to state ownership or management."
The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee will hear the new bills on Thursday. HR 3650 would allow any state to claim ownership of up to 2 million acres of national forests, roughly the size of Yellowstone National Park. A second bill, HR 2316, would allow states to seize 4 million acres of national forests for clear-cut logging.
The National Wildlife Federation has promised to continue its work to defeat public-land grabs by Congress. When hunters and anglers learned about two Wyoming bills that would allow the state to take over national lands, Andersen said, calls in opposition flooded the lines at the Capitol. She said the actions of anti-government extremist groups and out-of-touch lawmakers have made outdoor enthusiasts and wildlife advocates even more determined to keep public lands in public hands.
"All of these lands are for all Americans, and they include a variety of uses. You can fish, you can hunt, you can ride horses," she said. "But if they go away - if they're converted to state management, potentially sold to the highest bidder - they can be developed."
Andersen said the idea of turning over land that can be enjoyed by everyone to private buyers or for natural-resource extraction isn't popular. She cited a recent survey by Colorado College that found nearly six in 10 western voters oppose removing federal oversight of public lands.
Information about HR 3650 is online here and HR 2316 is here. Details of the Colorado College survey are at coloradocollege.edu.