After widespread public outcry from hunters, anglers, recreationists, and public lands enthusiasts across the country, Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz promised to withdraw his legislation (HR 621) to sell off millions of acres of public lands across the West. Since there isn’t any mechanism for withdrawing a bill once introduced, we assume this means that though the measure remains “introduced,” Chaffetz does not intend to advance it.
The bill targets 3.3 million acres of public land across 10 states for “disposal” (read: “sale”) including roughly 133,000 acres in Utah. Chaffetz’s assertions rely upon a stale, decades-old report from the Interior Dept. identifying the lands. In an adroit bit of cherry-picking, Chaffetz neglected to mention that the report also specified that many of those parcels contain a number of “impediments to disposal,” including cultural, historical, and paleontological resources as well as endangered plants and animals. Thankfully, citizens from 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 the land grab, leading Chaffetz to withdraw the legislation in late February.
This is a major victory for public lands across the West 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.
Though Chaffetz sought to distance himself from that bill, he said nothing about another one he recently introduced, the “Local Enforcement for Local Lands Act” (HR 622). This egregious piece of legislation would eliminate roughly 300 law enforcement officials at the BLM and another 700 at the Forest Service and replace them with deputized local officials. That would undoubtedly compromise the agencies’ ability to ensure public safety as well as to protect the critical wildlife, ecosystems, minerals, timber, and archaeological resources of our nation’s public lands. HR 622 represents yet another attempt by Utah lawmakers to undermine public lands in the West, one that could ultimately endanger public workers and embolden extremists.
In the backdrop to 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. Rep. Rob Bishop and Rep. Chaffetz have repeatedly lobbied the Trump administration to overturn the newly-proclaimed 1.35-million-acre Bears Ears National Monument, and to eliminate sizeable portions of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument as well. These landscapes are places of recreation, inspiration, reflection, joy, and discovery. They remain in grave danger.
The battle to protect our public lands in the 115th Congress has only just begun. SUWA will fight every step of the way against those who would rather plunder our public lands than protect them. We will need your help as never before. And we’ll keep you posted as new threats emerge.
(From Redrock Wilderness newsletter, Spring 2017 issue)