Congressman Chaffetz Withdraws Public Lands Disposal Bill, but There’s More Work to Be Done

After widespread public outcry from hunters, anglers, recreationists, and public lands enthusiasts across the country, Congressman Jason Chaffetz has promised to withdraw HR 621 — legislation that would have sold off millions of acres of public lands across the West. (There is no mechanism for withdrawing a bill once it’s been introduced, so we assume this means that, while it will remain on the books, he does not intend to advance it.)

HR 621 identified 3.3 million acres of federal land across 10 states for disposal and subsequent sale (based off a dusty, 20-year-out-of-date Interior Department report), including 132, 931 acres in Utah. What Chaffetz’s bill neglected to mention is that the report also specified that many of those parcels contain a number of “impediments to disposal,” including the presence of cultural, historical, and paleontological resources as well as endangered plant and animal species. Thankfully, citizens across the country who treasure these public lands flooded the congressman’s office with calls and hosted two rallies in Montana and New Mexico to voice their outrage at what would have been nothing short of a land grab, leading the congressman to withdraw the legislation late Wednesday night.

This is a major victory for public lands and a testament to the power of grassroots activism, but the broader fight surrounding the fate of our nation’s natural treasures is far from over.

In disavowing HR 621, Congressman Chaffetz said nothing about another piece of legislation he introduced last week. HR 622, the “Local Enforcement for Local Lands Act,” would eliminate roughly 300 law enforcement officials at the BLM and another 700 at the Forest Service and replace them with deputized local officials. Such actions would effectively curtail the agencies’ ability to ensure public safety as well as protect the critical wildlife, ecosystems, cultural sites, and other important resources of our nation’s most beloved landscapes.

In the backdrop of all of this, the Utah delegation continues to wage war on our national monuments and the very law that made them possible, the Antiquities Act of 1906. Representatives Bishop and Chaffetz have repeatedly lobbied the Trump administration to overturn the 1.35-million acre Bears Ears National Monument and eliminate sizeable portions of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument as well. These incredibly special landscapes—places of recreation, inspiration, reflection, joy, and discovery—remain in grave danger.

In short, the battle to protect our public lands in the 115th Congress has only just begun. SUWA will fight our opponents every step of the way and we’ll keep you posted as new threats emerge. In the meantime, let’s continue to remind Congressman Chaffetz that public lands should be preserved for the benefit of the many instead of sold off for the sake of a few.

If you live in Chaffetz’s district, call his office (DC: 202-225-7751, UT: 801-851-2500) and thank him for doing the right thing on HR 621, but insist that he must also withdraw HR 622 and support the Bears Ears National Monument!