Utahs Representative announced a surprising change in course last night
(Feb. 2, 2017) Washington D.C.In a surprising reversal, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) announced last night he would withdraw HB 621, a bill that would sell off millions of acres of public lands.
As pro-public lands rallies formed across the West this week, the bill drew loud protest from hunters and anglers and was seen as part of a larger effort to transfer and sell millions of acres of public lands that belong to all Americans.
Chris Wood, CEO of Trout Unlimited thanked Chaffetz for withdrawing the bill.
We are pleased to hear Rep. Chaffetz has changed course on his effort to sell public lands and we thank him for listening to the voices of sportsmen and women. Across the country we have seen a groundswell of support for our public lands. These lands are our birthright. They drive our economy, keep our air and water clean, and are the places we go to find the wonder of our natural world. The public lands are what remains of our westward migration. They are the crucible upon which the character of the nation was formed. Public lands, quite literally, define us as Americans. Selling them off cheats not only this generation but all those who follow.”
The effort to sell public lands has been at the forefront of both state and federal legislation in recent years. Most recently, Rep. Ryan Zinke staunchly defended public lands during his confirmation hearing as Secretary of the Interior, stating unequivocally that he was absolutely against transfer or sale of public lands. To date, Trout Unlimited has been involved in stopping nearly 40 bills that would have sold lands to the highest bidder.
Sportsmen and women are fundamentally opposed to this notion and have banded together en masse to make that known, said Corey Fisher, senior policy director for Trout Unlimiteds Sportsmens Conservation Project. With all of the downsides to selling public lands, with all we have to lose were these lands to be stolen from the public trust? It begs the question who is actually for this ill-conceived idea.
HB 621 was not the only anti-public lands bill filed so far this year. Also on the list are:
- HB 622 Local Enforcement for Local Lands Act: this bill would remove the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Managements law enforcement
- Wyomings SJR3: A constitutional amendment in the state of Wyoming which would have made it easier to transfer federal lands to the state. This bill was dropped in January.
- A rules package passed in early January that included a provision to make land transfers budget neutral essentially greasing the skids for future public lands disposal bills.
In 2016 state legislatures introduced numerous bills aimed at gutting public lands, most of which were defeated. This year, consevation organizations are bracing for more bad bills, prepping to continue the fight to keep public lands in public hands.
Today is a big day and were grateful this bill is no longer on the table. However, there is still much to be done. We need to start asking ourselves what we will do to protect these places instead of selling them off to the highest bidder. Hunters and anglers arent going anywhere and if this is any indication, they are an important force to be recognized, Fisher said.