Our public lands — including National Forests, wildlife refuges and wilderness areas — are arguably our greatest treasure. Well, almost every Republican Senator just voted to sell them to the highest bidder. This is what you can do about it.
Why Public Land Is Important
I don’t need to explain this, some of our nation’s greatest thinkers and leaders have already done so:
“There can be no greater issue than that of conservation in this country.” — Theodore Roosevelt
“Today, across our land, the National Park System represents America at its best. Each park contributes to a deeper understanding of the history of the United States and our way of life; of the natural processes which have given form to our land, and to the enrichment of the environment in which we live.” — George B Hartzog, Jr.
“The fundamental idea...is that the country belongs to the people, that it is in process of making for the enrichment of the lives of all of us.” — Franklin D. Roosevelt
“National parks and reserves are an integral aspect of intelligent use of natural resoures. It is the course of wisdom to set aside an ample portion of our natural resources as national parks and reserves, thus ensuring that future generations may know the majesty of the earth as we know it today.” — John F. Kennedy
“Conservation is a great moral issue, for it involves the patriotic duty of insuring the safety and continuance of the nation.” — Theodore Roosevelt
“As we peer into society’s future, we – you and I, and our government – must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower
“Restoring nature to its natural state is a cause beyond party and beyond factions. It has become a common cause of all the people of this country. It is a cause of particular concern to young Americans, because they more than we will reap the grim consequences of our failure to act on programs which are needed now if we are to prevent disaster later.” — Richard Nixon
“The preservation of parks, wilderness, and wildlife has also aided liberty by keeping alive the 19th century sense of adventure and awe with which our forefathers greeted the American West. Many laws protecting environmental quality have promoted liberty by securing property against the destrutctive trespass of pollution. In our own time, the nearly universal appreciation of these preserved landscapes, restored waters, and cleaner air through outdoor recreation is a modern expression of our freedom and leisure to enjoy the wonderful life that generations past have built for us.” — Ronald Reagan
And one more, for good measure: “We need the tonic of wildness...At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.” — Henry David Thoreau
SA 838 is a budgetary amendment which backs support for and funding of state efforts to take over federal land. It was part of a larger debate over the 2016 fiscal year federal budget.
While yes, its language does note that it’s impossible to sell National Parks, National Monuments and National Preserves (which enjoy extraordinary legal protection), it leaves the door open to sell National Forests, Wildlife Refuges and Wildernesses. That’s some of you and I’s most beautiful lands on which we’re currently able to camp, hunt, hang out with our dogs and on which a large portion of wild animals rely for their habitat.
Introducing the amendment, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R, AK) stated, “When we have an opportunity to consider this amendment, a vote for it is really a vote in support of — as a priority of this Congress — comprehensive approaches to land policies to facilitate economic development, empower States and improve our conservation systems.”
The back story is that there’s ongoing, and potentially unconstitutional efforts taking place in Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, Alaska and Idaho to see those states take possession of public land from the federal government, then allow the exploitation of their resources by private industry.
AmericanProgress.org calls it “…a losing battle that amounts to little more than political grandstanding to rally their extreme conservative base and feed an antigovernment narrative. Such bills contradict the majority of public opinion in these states, as well as economic realities and constitutional precedent dating back to the mid-19th century.”
The senate’s budgetary amendment to support this privatization carries no legal weight — it’s not a law — but does signify a troubling level of support for the privatization of public land. And make no mistake, this is about privatization and resource exploitation.
Efforts to “reclaim” public land are financially support by special interest groups like ALEC and Americans For Prosperity. ALEC is primarily funded by ExxonMobil while Americans For Prosperity was founded by David and Charles Koch. They’re funding an argument that, on the surface, sounds sensible — States’ Rights! — but underneath, simply appears to be a land grab by private interests intent on resource exploitation.
SA 838 passed 51-49. Democrats unanimously opposed it, while all but three Republicans voted for it. The holdouts were Corey Gardner of Colorado, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.
If it’s not a law (yet!), then why worry about it? “If you let a bad idea fester long enough, it sounds less and less like a bad idea,” states Steve Kline, of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. The fear is that this success in the senate could encourage future efforts to pass similar language as actual legislation. Once our National Forests, Wildlife Refuges and Wildernesses are gone, they’re gone for good.
And despite a clear demarcation along party lines in the vote, this isn’t a partisan issue. It’s a common sense one; we need to preserve the protected wildernesses that make this country so special. Traditionally conservative organizations like Backcountry Hunters & Anglers are also voicing strong opposition. “Public lands are the fabric that binds America together,” they state. “Nationally, an organized, concerted movement is underway to sell off and limit access to America’s public lands and waters. These are not merely the actions of a lunatic fringe. Now is the time to double down and fight back against this ill-conceived idea.”
What Can You Do About It?
Well, you could stop electing to public office greedy assholes who care more about pandering to big business than serving their constituents or the public interest. If that’s asking too much, you could instead sign this petition from The Wilderness Society, it calls for elected officials to end their support for selling off public lands.
You could also write to your local senator in opposition to the amendment, especially if they were one of the Republicans who supported it.
Who Voted To Sell Your Public Land?
Top photo: David McNew/Getty Images
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