UPDATE: Rep. Jason Chaffetz announced in a post on Instagram that he is withdrawing the land selloff bill. The news follows many comments and calls to Congress from our supporters and other conservationists. Thank you!
Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz's bill identifies 3.3 million acres across 10 states to be 'disposed of' and sold off, just a few days after the House passed a rules package that makes such land seizure plans easier to execute.
Fellow Utah Congressman Rob Bishop, seeming to nurse an eternal grudge against the very idea of public lands, concocted the latter provision for just this purpose. Right now, the Congressional Budget Office, which provides lawmakers with data so they can make budget decisions, officially considers public lands to have no monetary value, meaning that legislation like Chaffetz's has an easier path to enactment.
Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz wants to sell off 3.3 million acres of public lands, the latest step in a plan to seize Our Wild. Photo credit: Michael Jolley, flickr.
"Trump's allies in Washington laid the tracks for this land takeover scheme the moment they started their legislative session, and now they're driving a locomotive over and through the American people and our wild natural heritage," said Alan Rowsome, senior government relations director for The Wilderness Society, in a statement.
A study released in 2016 estimated that parks and programs managed by the National Park Service alone are worth about $92 billion. That doesn't even account for the more than 560 national wildlife refuges, 150-some national forests and more than 200 sites in the Bureau of Land Management's National Conservation Lands system. But to some members of Congress, none of that matters—Our Wild belongs on the clearance rack, and the sooner America liquidates it, the better.
Chaffetz's land sell-off scheme based on unpopular idea
Chaffetz's bill, which he previously introduced in a slightly different form, would sell lands in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming to reduce the federal deficit. A poll conducted just a few months after the first time he introduced the legislation in 2013 showed that 72 percent of voters in western states would be less likely to vote for a candidate who supports selling public lands to reduce the budget deficit. Most voters in his own state said they are less likely to vote for a candidate who proposes the sale of federal lands, too.
The congressman couches his proposal in populist language about benefiting taxpayers, as have many other proponents of fringe land seizure efforts. But people in Utah and across the U.S. decisively reject the idea of selling off public lands: Polling from after the 2016 election showed that 78 percent of Americans oppose efforts to privatize or sell public lands, including 64 percent of people who voted for Trump.
Politicians are waging war on Our Wild—will you help defend it?
This is not Rep. Chaffetz's first dalliance with extremist anti-conservation proposals that try to degrade public lands or tear them away from the American people. He has previously supported measures to eliminate presidents' ability to protect land as national monuments, and to allow widespread motorized access to wilderness areas.
However, sadly, he is not alone. A cohort of lawmakers in Washington and at the state level are following the lead of the Bundy family and attacking the previously inviolable idea of Our Wild. We need to make sure our representatives remember that they work for US.