A bill to sell 3.3 million acres of public land will likely die today thanks to protests and public comment.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, (R-Utah) posted last night on Twitter and Instagram that he will withdraw HR 621 today. The bill would have put 3.3 million acres of land in 10 western states identified for disposal under the Clinton administration up for sale.
I am withdrawing HR 621. I’m a proud gun owner, hunter and love our public lands. The bill would have disposed of small parcels of lands Pres. Clinton identified as serving no public purpose but groups I support and care about fear it sends the wrong message. The bill was originally introduced several years ago. I look forward to working with you. I hear you and HR 621 dies tomorrow. #keepitpublic #tbt
The death of HR 621, known as the Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act, can be seen as a victory for outdoors enthusiasts, led largely by hunters and anglers, who protested Chaffetz’s bill. At least a thousand people rallied at the Capitol Rotunda in Helena, Montana, protesting any potential transfer of public lands.
Leaders in the outdoor industry have gone so far as to call for the Outdoor Retailer trade show to leave Utah in protest.
“Last I checked, hunters and fishermen were taxpayers,” Jason Amaro of the south-west chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers told The Guardian. “That word ‘disposal’ is scary. It’s not ‘disposable’ for an outdoorsman.”
Hunting and outdoor groups started a petition against land transfer bills. So far, it has collected over 45,000 signatures.
HR 622: Law Enforcement On Public Lands
Chaffetz did not address HR 622, which he introduced alongside HR 621. The bill intends to remove the law enforcement function from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service. Instead, the bill calls for deputizing local law enforcement, combined with blocking grant funding, to “empower existing duly elected law enforcement officers to carry out these responsibilities.”
The bill, jointly sponsored by Utah’s Rep. Mia Love and Rep. Chris Stewart, also establishes a formula to reimburse local law enforcement based on the percentage of public land in each state.
Ongoing Battle For Public Lands
While the death of 621 will, can, and should be seen as a success for those who value undeveloped public lands, it is far from the end of the war.
The transfer of public lands from federal to state hands is a contentious issue. Many states’ rights advocates contend that the states will better shepherd these parcels for local enjoyment.
However, we and many others are concerned that, once transferred to states, the new burden of small local governments will result in the sale of many public areas to private interests. And once they’re gone, they’re gone forever.
Public lands are one of the attributes that make America a fantastic place to live and play. They deserve our care, and our attention, to keep them public for all generations to come.