Guest opinion: Selling off our public lands is a bad idea that won’t die |

Guest opinion: Selling off our public lands is a bad idea that won’t die

David Lien
Guest opinion
David Lien
Special to the Daily

During the past couple of years, hunters, anglers, outdoor recreationists and other public lands advocates have had a bit of a respite from the never-ending efforts by some politicians (and others) to wrest control of our shared public lands estate from all of us to hand over to, first, the states and then, inevitably, private interests, ultimately to be turned over to myopic profiteers looking to fatten their already bulging bank accounts.

In an April 2017 Greeley Tribune op-ed, I quoted Petersen’s Hunting Editor-in-Chief Mike Schoby, who said: “The real reason politicians lobby to get their hands on federal lands is not to better manage it for hunters (don’t kid yourself: your hunting opportunities are not even on their radar), but to rape and pillage it before selling it off to wealthy corporations that donate heavily to their campaigns.” For the most part, these efforts have been thwarted, but bad ideas never die.

And for anyone who has been paying attention, since the beginning of January, Congress seems to be little more than a taxpayer-funded theater of the absurd. More specifically, on Jan. 3, 2023, the U.S. House of Representatives convened the 118th Congress following midterm elections where Republicans narrowly flipped the chamber despite predictions of a “red wave.” It turns out this “wave” narrative was driven, in part, by skewed polls that came out during the final months of the election cycle.

“The new majority kicked off a slow and theatrical start with a now-notorious string of votes to choose the speaker of the House — the longest series of such votes since before the Civil War,” explained Kaden McArthur, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers government relations manager. “After 15 ballots over the course of four days, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was elected speaker following concessions to conservative members of the Republican caucus.”

Then, promptly and unfortunately, Republicans approved new House rules making it easier for lawmakers to cede federal public lands to state and local governments. House Republicans instituted a similar rule in 2017 after securing a majority. Three weeks later, Republicans from Western states introduced legislation that would have ceded 3 million acres of federal public lands to states.

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“The House’s first order of business was to determine a new rules package,” McArthur added. “One item … BHA strongly opposed … threatens the integrity of our public estate — lands and waters enjoyed by 70 million hunters and anglers as well as many other outdoor enthusiasts — and we fought to exclude it from the final rules package … The door will be open to misguided legislative proposals that benefit special interests over the American people.

“It’s worth noting that similar language in the House rules package for the 115th Congress (2017-2019) was followed by legislative proposals to eliminate federal public lands — efforts that were ultimately abandoned by their proponents after facing tremendous public backlash, including from BHA,” McArthur added.

“Conserving large tracts of undeveloped public lands … is essential to America’s hunting and fishing traditions,” BHA Conservation Director John Gale said in a November 2017 blog post.

“Like zombies, many bad public policy ideas are difficult to kill,” added Whit Fosburgh, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership president and CEO in an August 2017 blog post. “Just when you think they are finally discredited, those bad ideas stagger from their graves … and once again require a unified effort to be put down.”

As our nation’s greatest hunter-conservationist, Theodore Roosevelt, explained, “The movement for the conservation of wildlife and the larger movement for the conservation of all our natural resources are essentially democratic in spirit, purpose, and method.”

America’s public lands are not something to be sold off for a quick buck. They are, in the words of Wallace Stegner, “the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”

With the 118th Congress underway, we are working to thwart any efforts/legislation that threatens the conservation values of our wild public lands, waters, wildlife and the future of our hunting and fishing traditions. For additional information visit BHA’s action center.

David Lien is a former Air Force officer and co-chairman of the Colorado Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. He’s the author of six books including “Hunting for Experience: Tales of Hunting & Habitat Conservation.”

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