Congress Returns from Vacation on the Attack Against Public Lands

Congress is back in session following its summer vacation and, unfortunately, a return of Congress often means a fresh set of attacks made on public lands. These assaults come in the form of three bills: the so-called Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement (SHARE) Act, the Native American Energy Act, and the Federal Lands Freedom Act, all of which received docket space in front of the House Committee on Natural Resources over the past two weeks. And make no mistake, the bills’ cheerful, benign-sounding names belie the damage they are designed to inflict on public lands.

The SHARE Act (H.R. 3668), which passed the House last Congress but died in the Senate, is back for another round and has progressed quickly, advancing yesterday out of the committee just one day after it received a hearing in front of the same body. Though it’s purported to be about improving the experience for sportsmen on public lands, the SHARE Act actually does that by allowing land managers to bypass large portions of the Wilderness Act so long as hunting, fishing, or recreation are being prioritized. Practically speaking, any non-compatible use that could conceivably be pursued in the service of recreation—from building structures and tampering with habitats, to allowing motorized access—would be suddenly allowed in wilderness under the terms of this bill.

Much of the focus in any press you may have heard on the SHARE Act has centered on America’s gun debate, as the bill contains a provision to ease restrictions on the sale of silencers. But our congressional champions were on the ball regarding the bill’s bad public lands provisions. Amendments that would have improved the bill—one from Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) removing states’ veto power for fishing and hunting restrictions, and one from Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA) that would solidify protections for wilderness areas—were defeated on party lines. After crankily accepting roll call votes for each amendment, Committee Chair Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) cheerily accepted the eventual 22-13 party-line vote to advance the bill.

Also scheduled for a markup this week was the Native American Energy Act (H.R. 210), which rigorously limits citizen engagement and government transparency by amending the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to restrict public input on environmental reviews, diminishing the voices of those who would be affected by potentially catastrophic environmental projects.

And finally, the Federal Lands Freedom Act (H.R. 3565/S. 335) was given a hearing in the House last week. This piece of legislation is an escalation of the tactics being used by those whose goal is to ultimately privatize and dissolve America’s system of public lands. But rather than proposing to transfer the lands outright, as we’ve seen before, the bill seeks to remove federal oversight of oil and gas drilling on public lands, essentially handing crucial land management decisions over to state authorities. The bill would also limit public access to public lands and circumvent federal environmental laws like NEPA.

It’s a good reminder that we’re often better off when Congress is in recess, but we’re here watching them when they’re not. As these bills move through Congress, we’ll keep you updated about what you can do to help stop them.