Last week it was announced that a new bill introduced by Rep. Jason Chaffetz would propose selling 3.3 million acres of federal land in 10 different states. Thousands of people responded, with protests in several states.
In Montana, over 1,000 public lands supporters joined Gov. Steve Bullock to show their opposition to the bill. Gov. Bullock stated, “Every one of us owns these public lands,” Bullock told the crowd. “And the beauty is, we don’t need permission to go on them, do we? These lands are our heritage. These lands are our birthright.” In New Mexico hundreds more rallied to protest the bill.
It seems that, for now, the public outcry has worked. Rep. Chaffetz announced he is withdrawing HR 621:
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
Unfortunately we can’t take a lot of time to celebrate the victory, as Chaffetz has other plans for legislation that affects public lands.
A second bill that was introduced by Chaffetz would abolish all law enforcement rights of the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service officials on public lands and hand over powers to local sheriffs. If this sounds familiar, it is. This was one of the main demands of the armed militia that occupied the Malheaur National Wildlife Refuge last year and has been called for by the Bundy family specifically for years.
Chaffetz has previously introduced these legislations in the last Congress and has also cosponsored legislation to undermine the Antiquities Act and seize public lands.
Republicans are on a path that could effectively destroy our public lands. At the beginning of the year the House of Representatives made it a lot easier to sell off public lands, such as national parks and national forests, when they established a new rule that said any legislation to dispose of public lands and natural resources would cost taxpayers $0. This means that the House does not need to estimate financial loses from giving away public land, allowing sponsored bills to skip several steps in the legislative process, such as the discussion of the costs and benefits of selling the land.
The rule passed with a vote of 234 to 193 and is effective immediately.
As Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) stated, “This proposed rule change would make it easier to implement this plan by allowing the Congress to give away every single piece of property we own, for free, and pretend we have lost nothing of any value. Not only is this fiscally irresponsible, but it is also a flagrant attack on places and resources valued and beloved by the American people.”