Thursday, March 17, 2016
How an East Coast think tank is fueling the land transfer movement
Recently, Idaho senators met to vote on a new bill that would let county sheriffs, commissioners, and mayors decide if an area of federal land is at risk of wildfire, and demand that the federal government fix it. If the feds - usually Bureau of Land Management or US Forest Service - don't respond, local officials could coordinate with the state to take legal action.
But the bill didn't come to a vote - it was met with contention from the Idaho Senate largely because it was aligned with the effort to transfer federal lands to state control. The law is also an example of a larger trend of legislation in Western states being derived from model bills created by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC - not to be confused with the Utah-based American Lands Council (ALC) - is a nonprofit organization founded in 1973 by conservative activist Paul Weyrich that works to push principles of free-market enterprise, limited federal control, and more power for state governments. The conservative policy group based in Arlington, Virginia, whose corporate advisory board includes Exxon Mobil and tobacco giant Altria, is funded largely by the Koch family and is becoming increasingly involved in the land transfer movement by providing bill templates, research and public support to Western legislators.
The Idaho bill illustrates a pattern that seems to be developing in the West, says Center for Western Priorities policy director Greg Zimmerman. "Utah comes up with these ideas, passes them into law through their legislature, and through the ALEC network, [legislators] try and pass them in other states," he says.
...As the land transfer movement gains traction in the West, the links between ALEC and Western lawmakers become more clear. For instance, the Federal Lands Action Group, a relatively new organization started by US Reps. Chris Stewart and Rob Bishop from Utah, held a forum in Washington, DC, to introduce land transfer legislation to interested politicians earlier this month. The first speaker at the forum was Karla Jones, an ALEC staffer. Stewart said ALEC was chosen to present because its views on public lands "aligned well" with the Federal Lands Action Group. Jones talked about ALEC's model policies, urged a timely transfer of federal lands to states, and showcased ALEC's available resources to help states successfully transition to state-based land ownership.
...ALEC has played a role in public lands debates as far back as 1995, when it drafted the “Sagebrush Rebellion Act,” to establish mechanisms for public land transfer to state control, though the act never passed. The Center for Western Priorities estimates that up to six of ALEC’s model policies advocate public lands transfer.