Bill would bar Interior and Ag secretaries from selling off lands
Recognizing that America’s national parks, wildlife refuges, forests and other public lands belong to all of us, new legislation would block such places from being sold off or surrendered to state and private entities.
“Public lands belong to all of us. This bill will ensure that they remain open and are never handed over to special interest groups,” said Brad Brooks, The Wilderness Society’s public lands campaign director, in a statement.
The America’s Public Land Act is a common-sense safeguard for cherished wildlands that we all own. It offers a proactive solution for conservation in the midst of unprecedented attacks on land, water and wildlife under the Trump administration.
The America’s Public Land Act of 2019, introduced by Sen. Martin Heinrich and Rep. Alan Lowenthal, would bar any secretary of the Interior or Agriculture from selling public lands. Additionally, it would prevent the transfer of management authority to states or other elected officials, except when expressly authorized by Congress.
America’s Public Land Act responds to anti-conservation movement
The bill responds to threats posed by a strain of anti-conservation thinking that started on the fringes but now drives many policy decisions in Washington DC. That approach is exemplified by President Trump's infamous and unlawful cuts to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.
Proponents of that anti-public lands philosophy want to remove huge chunks of protected public land from the care of agencies like the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management, often handing over management decisions about these places to special interests including extractive industries. These lands can also be taken over by state governments, which may treat them simply as assets to bolster state budgets—leasing or selling these treasures to oil, mining and logging companies.
We've seen many real-world examples of states selling off public lands. Our 2016 report showed that Idaho has sold off about 1.7 million acres of state-controlled land for development, in many cases, cutting off access to cherished outdoor recreation spots. A similar report found that since statehood, Utah has liquidated more than 54 percent of the land originally granted to it, including major archaeological sites and wildlife habitat. The new bill would prevent leaders from forfeiting lands to state governments unless Congress votes to allow it.
The America’s Public Land Act is a common-sense safeguard for cherished wildlands that we all own. The bills now before the House and Senate offer a proactive solution for conservation, in the midst of unprecedented attacks on land, water and wildlife under the current administration.
In the months ahead, we'll be working to see this legislation advanced by true champions of public lands in Congress.