Congress Proposes to Allow Disposal of Federal Lands

Earlier this month, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced Amendment 838 to the Senate Budget Resolution to allow the federal government to grant federally-owned public land to state, local, and tribal governments. While the formal reasoning is to balance the budget and lighten the federal government’s financial burden of managing and maintaining these lands, the underlying impetus is anti-government sentiment and a desire to open public lands up to resource extraction and development.

This radical notion of states seizing public lands—including national forest lands and Bureau of Land Management lands where Americans love to hike, camp, hunt and fish—would reduce the freedom to access these lands for all of us, including our children and grandchildren. Ultimately, this effort could sacrifice our most treasured parks, wild lands, and national monuments for the short-term gain of special interests.

While National Parks, wilderness areas, wildlife refuges, and wild and scenic rivers would be exempt, areas like Los Padres National Forest and Carrizo Plain National Monument could potentially be dissolved into private parcels of resource extraction.

Allowing the federal government to dispose of our public lands simply has too many costs. If the states are given control of our public lands, they would be faced with paying the costs of upkeep. As a result, state governments would be forced to either raise taxes or sell off iconic national treasures to the highest bidder. This would also cause potential damage to other state programs like law enforcement or public education as they suffer cutbacks to help pay for the new fiscal burden of managing millions of acres of public lands.

Amendment 838 is following on the heels of similar legislation introduced to the house by Ron Bishop (R-UT), the Chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources. Bishop argues that “federal lands create a burden for the surrounding states and communities,” and encourages the sell-off to states and local governments. Additionally, he also proposes dismantling of the National Landscape Conservation System, and opening up federal lands to oil drilling and mining, opposes a fee to pay for inspections of oil wells on federal lands, opposes land acquisition to eliminate private inholdings, and reduce the public’s ability to challenge environmentally destructive projects on federal lands.

Luckily, these resolutions are “non-binding” and merely act as guidance as Congress decides how to allocate federal funding and establish policies for the next fiscal year. Additionally, the initiatives are viewed unfavorably by the majority of the public, so it’s unknown if the language will make it into the formal budget, but if it does, it would have to be approved by the President.

In any case, Los Padres ForestWatch will continue to monitor its progress, while also tracking other current and upcoming legislation that threatens our public lands. In the meantime, you can sign the Wilderness Society’s petition to show your disapproval of the legislation by clicking here!

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