The sale of your public lands is more possible now than ever

Yesterday the US Senate passed a budget resolution that, while it does not carry the weight of law – does serve as an internal instructional document, a broad outline of the policies and priorities that Congress will seek over the next few months to implement in legislation that most certainly will carry the weight of law. As such, it included a series of up or down votes that put members of the Senate on record on several issues important to sportsmen.

Photo courtesy of Marty Sheppard.

And, in general, it was not good news.  First, the numbers:

The Senate budget resolution would maintain sequestration for non-defense discretionary spending (including all conservation spending) and then cut an additional $236 billion over the 2017 to 2025 period.  The Senate budget would cut conservation funding in FY2016 by about $5 billion dollars relative to 2013 levels.  Conservation Funding wouldn’t return to its 2013 funding level of $41 billion until 2022.  If you adjust for inflation the cuts inflicted by the budget will be far worse.

And now the policy:

I’ll start with the two bright spots.  Senator Debbie Stabenow’s (D-MI) amendment clarifies that all existing agricultural exemptions in the Clean Water Act, which date back to the early 1970s, should be maintained in the proposed Waters of the US rule.  That the amendment passed unanimously may signal that Congress may be willing to look at the facts on the proposed rule and not just the rhetoric from status quo stakeholders.  The next bright spot was an amendment offered by Senators Crapo (R-ID) and Wyden (D-OR) that changes the way we pay for catastrophic fires, which now eat up almost half of the Forest Service’s annual budget. The amendment had sufficient support that it was included in the manager’s report by acclimation.

Besides the basic funding levels, the giant alarm bell coming from the budget resolution was the amendment offered by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) that essentially encourages Congress to “sell, or transfer to, or exchange with, a state or local government any Federal land that is not within the boundaries of a National Park, National Preserve, or National Monument…” The amendment passed 51-49. Here is a roll call of the vote.

Photo courtesy of Eric Petlock.

As most sportsmen know, transferring lands to the state or selling them off is a bad deal for sportsmen.  See www.sportsmensaccess.org for more information on the issue.  If Congress were to follow these instructions, all BLM lands, National Forests and even National Wildlife Refuges could go on the chopping block.  Heck, even national battlefields and historic sites could be transferred or sold.

All Democrats voted against the Murkowski amendment, and three Republicans — Senators Alexander (TN), Senator Ayotte (NH) and Senator Gardner (CO) — bucked leadership and sided with sportsmen.

The budget resolution does not carry the weight of law and is an easy place for members to make “symbolic” votes without actually changing the law.  But symbolic votes show what members think and what they think is important.

Make no mistake about it, the public lands vote on the budget resolution was a finger in the eye to sportsmen everywhere.  But the real action is still to come, the question is whether sportsmen and women will pay attention and make their elected representatives know what they think about selling off or giving away our public lands.

As a sportsman who cares about access to our federal public lands, you can do two things right away.

  1. Sign the Sportsmen’s Access petition at www.sportsmensaccess.org – and then forward it to two other friends and urge them to sign as well.
  2. Call your Senator’s office at (202) 224-3121 and thank them if they voted ‘No’ or voice your concern if they voted ‘Yes’ (see how they voted here).
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Whit Fosburgh
Whit Fosburgh joined TRCP as President and CEO in June 2010. Prior to working at the TRCP, Fosburgh spent 15 years at Trout Unlimited, playing a critical role in that organization’s evolution into a conservation powerhouse. Fosburgh grew up hunting and fishing in upstate New York and was a member of team USA in the 1997 World Fly Fishing Championships. He brings a wealth of experience centered on conservation policy, fundraising and program development as well as a passion for the outdoors.

Related posts:

  1. Over 200 sportsmen rally in Idaho to keep public lands public
  2. New Mexico sportsmen rally to “keep their public lands public”
  3. Putting a price tag on our federal public lands
  4. America’s public lands are for all of us to use
  5. Public lands: Sportsmen’s most precious resource
About Whit Fosburgh

Whit Fosburgh joined TRCP as President and CEO in June 2010. Prior to working at the TRCP, Fosburgh spent 15 years at Trout Unlimited, playing a critical role in that organization’s evolution into a conservation powerhouse. Fosburgh grew up hunting and fishing in upstate New York and was a member of team USA in the 1997 World Fly Fishing Championships. He brings a wealth of experience centered on conservation policy, fundraising and program development as well as a passion for the outdoors.

6 comments on “The sale of your public lands is more possible now than ever

  1. Lynn Gould on said:

    If our state bought the land it might be the best because if they were to sell it they would have to give 95percent to the government so the would have no reason to sell

    • Perhaps that is the case in your state, but in mine – NM – I wouldn’t bet on it. Our State Legislature recently passed a bill reversing decades of public fishing access to streams (but not their banks) that flow through private land, bending to the will of landowners and other private interests.

    • Jonathan Hanna on said:

      The state is not buying the land, it is now the state’s land transferred over from federal control. The state could sell it to the highest bidder of a private party eventually because if will become a financial burden to maintain or manage that land, or they simply decide they don’t want to own it anymore. It will become private land and you will no longer be allowed to access these lands for public use. Texas is a good comparison to what the land ownership will become.

  2. Billy Reeder on said:

    Keep public lands public. Period. Teddy Roosevelt fought to protect our natural resources because making them publicly owned is the only way to preserve them and allow every American to benefit from this natural treasure.

  3. Demencio Campos jr on said:

    The public lands in our USA should always remain as they were determined to be free public land for our citizens & above all sportsmen & sport women to use as the law allows

  4. no real surprise, but i found this today – Thanks Montana GOP

    http://archive.americanlandscouncil.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/MTGOP-TPL-resolution-passed-unanimously-at-state-convention-6-21-14.pdf

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