withdraw his “Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act,” but public-lands advocates must keep the pressure on Congress to defeat other transfer proposals still circulating on Capitol Hill.
Chaffetz’s HR 621 called for selling 3.3 million acres of land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in 10 states. He submitted the bill on Jan. 24 and pulled it on Feb. 2 in the face of heated opposition from a coalescence of constituencies, ranging from hunters to the U.S. Humane Society.
The bill was an attempt to “grease the skids” and Chaffetz “got hammered for it,” Sierra Club Deputy Secretary for Federal Policy Adam Beitman said. “The lightbulb went off for a lot of people.”
But the battle has just begun, Center for Western Priorities’ (CWP) Aaron Weiss warned, calling HR 621 a trial balloon, of sorts. Filing a proposal to “dispose” of millions of BLM acres to the highest “non-federal” bidder was “a good start” for transfer proponents who “are calling for much more than that.”
Between 2013 and 2016, at least 44 Republican-sponsored bills to dilute or delete federal regulatory control on public lands, as well as to divest-and-transfer federal lands to the states, have been introduced into Congress. At the 2016 GOP National Convention in Cleveland in July, Republicans included a provision in the RNC platform calling for the transfer of ownership of federal land to states.
Despite this, then-candidate Donald Trump said on the campaign trail that he opposed turning federal lands over to states. His son, Donald Trump, Jr., an avid outdoorsman and member of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA), reportedly convinced his father to select Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke, who opposes federal lands transfers, to be Secretary of the Interior.
Nevertheless, on the 115th Congress’s first day in session, the GOP-controlled House made 570 million of 640 million federally-administered acres essentially worthless by approving a “revenue neutral” resolution, which states “a conveyance of federal land to a state, local government, or tribal entity shall not be considered as providing new budget authority, decreasing revenues, increasing mandatory spending or increasing outlays.” Zinke, despite his stated opposition to federal lands transfers, voted in favor of the resolution.
On March 3, after being confirmed as Secretary of the Interior, Zinke told DOI employees at their Washington, D.C., headquarters that he would not sell off federal lands. "You can hear it from my lips: We will not sell or transfer public lands," he said.
On that same day, however, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) — the longtime leader of the divesture movement and chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee — formally asked the Treasury Department to allocate $50 million “to account for the costs to transfer federal land to state or local governments.”
And so, the table is set with a confusing array of potential outcomes. More importantly, the legislative docket is crammed with divest-transfer bills. Among those now in committee: HR 622, to strip the BLM and Forest Service of law-enforcement authority; HR 232, to manage 2 million National Forest acres in Alaska solely for timber harvesting; S 273, to give states full authority over conservation plans to restore sage-grouse habitat. And just this week, the Senate endorsed a House resolution, approved Feb. 7 in a 234-186 vote, to discard the BLM’s 2.0 land-use planning rules.
Reportedly on tap: Initiatives to repeal the 1906 Antiquities Act, un-list the 29 national monuments created by the Obama Administration and dilute the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Note: A summary of the issues, but written from a decidedly anti-transfer standpoint.