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author: Dr. Kevin Curran

updated: 3-11-2017

Our public lands are currently at risk of being sold off, privatized and lost as a natural resource.

Here’s the good news, the protection of public lands is a bi-partisan issue. Hikers, hunters, anglers, bikers, climbers, hippies and rednecks all enjoy public lands…

On this issue, you can leave your identity politics at the door. We are in this together.

If you value public lands, please take action and let your voice be heard.

Pristine public land in the Mojave Desert

This page serves as a guide to inform citizens of upcoming legislation that threatens public lands in the US. With each bill, we include actionable steps you can take to best leverage your position on the issue.

What are public lands?

In the United States, some land is owned and maintained by the federal government. This is called public land. This land is held in trust for the American people. When you pay your taxes, you’re providing the money needed to manage these lands. Every American citizen should consider themselves a partial landowner of this incredibly large spread of land.

How much land do we own? Great question, American citizens own 640 million acres of national public lands. To put this in perspective, approximately 50% of the western U.S. is designated as public land. I bet you didn’t realize you were such a massive landowner!

This land can be found easily. On a map, look for land referred to as BLM, National Forest, Wilderness areas or National Parks. That’s your land. Pack up some gear and drive out there. Each type of public land has its own rules governing what you can do there. But with a little research, you can find your perfect spot. Whether you want to hunt for elk, fish for trout or just camp out under the stars in total silence – there’s a little slice of paradise waiting for you to show up.

Click to read more about public lands.

Why are public lands currently at risk?

The federal government is currently entertaining the idea of selling off your public lands to individual states. This sale would provide a quick burst of cash to the federal government. Sounds good right? Here’s the problem…Once states are in possession of federal lands, the land becomes much easier to sell off to private interests.

Most states do not have the budget to maintain these large pieces of land. Putting out fires and managing wild game populations can be expensive. Therefore, it is highly likely, that states will sell off this land to private interests.

Once private companies are in control of this land, all bets are off.

Fences go up, forests get chopped down, hard rock mining begins, hunting and fishing is restricted and in general, public access is denied. If you have a few minutes, please watch the adjacent video to learn more about this situation.

This video is from the Sportsmen Access website, narrated by Randy Newberg.

Current legislation that threaten public lands

Click on each item to learn more and take action.

Tell the Interior Secretary to defend Bear’s Ear Monument

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Help protect BLM land near Zion National Park

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H.R. 621 (rescinded 2/2/17)

A sell-off of of 3.3 million acres of mostly western BLM land

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H.R. 622

A termination of law enforcement functions of BLM and National Forest land

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H.J. Res. 44

A termination of a BLM land management planning process (planning 2.0)

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More bills that threaten public lands will be posted soon.

If you’re unfamiliar with the nuts and bolts of how a bill becomes a law, here are a few resources to quickly bring you up to speed.

Tell the Interior Secretary to defend Bear’s Ear Monument

The Bears Ears National Monument protects 1.35 million acres just to the east of Canyonlands National Park and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in southeastern Utah. It was proposed by an unprecedented coalition of five tribes – the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni, and the Ute Indian Tribe.

By preserving Bears Ears as a monument, the wildlife and various cultural sites within its boundaries will be protected from illegal ATV use and vandalism. The Monument designation also allows Native American tribes to use the space in accordance with their traditional culture, including the gathering of firewood and medicinal herbs.

Ryan Zinke is our newly elected Secretary of the Department of the Interior. The Department of the Interior is in charge of much of the public land in the US (BLM, National Parks, Fish and Wildlife, ext.) Ryan Zinke has previously expressed an interest in preserving the Bears Ears Monument.

Send Ryan Zinke a message. Ask him to preserve Bears Ear public lands for future generations.

Protect land near Zion National Park

~ Public BLM land near Zion Park (Utah) may be leased to oil and gas companies. The BLM (St. George office) has given the public another month to weigh in on this issue. Use this form to tell the BLM that you don’t support this lease.

H.R. 621

To direct the Secretary of the Interior to sell certain Federal lands in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming, previously identified as suitable for disposal, and for other purposes.

H.R. 621 directs was introduced by Jason Chaffetz (R-UT). The bill aimed to sell off 3.3 million acres of public lands identified “as being suitable for sale”. This land was labeled “suitable for sale” nearly a generation ago, without regard to their present recreational or conservation values.

UPDATE: On Feb. 1 2017, Jason Chaffetz reported on his Instagram/Twitter account that he is withdrawing H.R. 621.

[from Instagram account] jasoninthehouse 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

Jason specifically cites his allegiance with hunters on this issue. In the quote above, I’ve included a link to Jason’s Instagram account. I follow Jason and in the comments section of his photos – I politely let him know that I appreciate when he supports public lands. Jason is involved in a lot of public land issues, so its a good idea to familiarize yourself with Jason and pay attention to his actions. Jason Chaffetz is the U.S. representative for Utah’s 3rd congressional district. He is a member of the Republican party and has been the chairman of the United States House Committee on Oversight and Governmental Reform since 2015. These congressmen do appreciate hearing from their constituents, however, like all things…your voice will carry more weight if you take a friendly and professional tone.

For the latest information on this bill, visit the official H.R. 621 page on congress.gov.

H.R. 622

To terminate the law enforcement functions of the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management and to provide block grants to States for the enforcement of Federal law on Federal land under the jurisdiction of these agencies, and for other purposes.

H.R. 622 was also introduced by Jason Chaffetz (see the section on H.R. 621 above). H.R. 622 has the intention of eliminating the law enforcement functions of the National Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. In their absence, local law enforcement would then pick up the slack. For example, the local sheriff would need to enforce laws that are specific to BLM or National Forest lands. This includes…enforcing camping rules, ATV use, poaching and illegal tree harvest for firewood.

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. The resulting cost savings will reduce the BLM budget by five percent and the Forest Service by seven percent.

People familiar with this issue, seem to think it is unrealistic to assume a local sheriff would have the time, resources or know-how to effectively regulate public lands. It is more likely this bill is an attempt to compromise the integrity of public lands – under the guise of ‘shrinking big government’.

To hear Jason Chaffetz’s thoughts on H.R. 622, you can listen to this podcast interview between Cameron Hanes and Jason.

As mentioned above, Jason Chaffetz is the U.S. representative for Utah’s 3rd congressional district. He is a member of the Republican party and has been the chairman of the United States House Committee on Oversight and Governmental Reform since 2015. He seems to be a central figure in recent attempts to shift public lands into state control.

I follow Jason on his Instagram account and his twitter account. He posts himself and likely reads most comments. If you reach out to Jason, be courteous but let him know your thoughts on preserving the integrity of public lands. Jason seems to be especially receptive to hearing from hunters. If you hunt on public lands, let him know you want to continue doing so in the future.

Outdoor Alliance has created this page, which allows citizens to easily send a letter to their appropriate representative in regards to H.R. 622. I encourage you to customize the subject line and body of the letter, so that your representative in congress will know that the letter represents your thoughts.

For the latest information on this bill, visit the official H.R. 622 page on congress.gov.

H.J. Res. 44

Disapproving the rule submitted by the Department of the Interior relating to Bureau of Land Management regulations that establish the procedures used to prepare, revise, or amend land use plans pursuant to the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976.

This joint resolution, H.J. Res. 44 aims to cancel the BLM land management planning process, referred to as Planning 2.0.

Planning 2.0 increases the amount of public input that goes into important BLM decisions. In theory, this would enhance our BLM public lands. Stephen Rinella, a prominent hunter, is very disappointed with the progress of H.J. Res. 44. Stephen regards BLM Planning 2.0 as a productive way to improve BLM habitat.

…it allows the BLM to more fully consider such things as the integrity of wildlife movement corridors and other key habitats during their decision-making process. In the past, the well-being of fish and game was somewhat ignored by the BLM. Logically, local sportsmen and local outdoor businesses were excited by the ways in which Planning 2.0 could make our public lands even more game-rich than they are now. (read more)

For the latest information on this bill, visit the official H.J. Res.44 on congress.gov.

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership has assembled a page to help you effectively contact your local representatives in regards to H.J. Res.44. Please personalize the subject line and body of letter, so that your letter best represents your own voice.

As of 3/12/2017, this bill had already passed the House and Senate.

Organizations that help defend public lands.

Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership

In 1912, Teddy Roosevelt said, “There can be no greater issue than that of conservation in this country.” The Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Partnership has taken up this charge. They are aggressive defenders of our public lands and also battle for causes that are important to hunters and anglers.

As stated on the TRCP website…

We help create federal policy and funding solutions by uniting our partners and amplifying the voices of American sportsmen and women in service of Theodore Roosevelt’s conservation legacy.

Sportsmen Access

Sportsmen Access is a consortium of various hunting, fishing and land use organizations. Their sportsmenaccess.org website serves to communicate land use issues to the general public. They are currently collecting signatures on a petition to stop the seizure of public lands. Visit their site and sign the petition!

The video on the right comes from the Sportsmen Access website, narrated by Randy Newberg. It’s a highly informative video that explains the risk that faces public lands.

Want to learn more about the history of public lands in the US?

Keep it Public is another organization that effectively communicates the public land use issue.

You will hear lots of people attempting to politicize the public land use issue. You will also hear people misrepresent the history of public lands in the US. To help cut through that noise, check out the adjacent video. Keep it Public has created an animated video that provides the timeline and history of public lands in the United States.

More general information about U.S. public lands.

Who manages our public lands?

As you may imagine, public land in the United States is managed by large government organizations. Here’s how it breaks down…

The Department of the Interior manages all land designated as:

  • Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
  • United States National Park
  • Bureau of Reclamation
  • Fish and Wildlife Service

The Department of Agriculture manages all land designated as:

  • United States Forest Service (national forest)

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