Get Ready for a Wave of Federal Land Transfers in Western States

It's the antithesis of what former President Obama and his predecessors did when they gave federal lands and waters more protection. But don't blame Trump's executive actions for this one (not yet, anyway), as it's being proposed by Congress.
January 29, 2017, 9am PST | Irvin Dawid
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For people and organizations who care about preservation of federal lands, this may come as a surprise, as it did to The Wilderness Society.

We didn’t see it coming. I think it was sneaky and underhanded. It exemplifies an effort to not play by the rules,” said Alan Rowsome, senior director of government relations at The Wilderness Society. “This is the worst Congress for public lands ever.”

"At stake are areas managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), National Forests and Federal Wildlife Refuges, which contribute to an estimated $646bn each year in economic stimulus from recreation on public lands and 6.1m jobs," reports Heather Hansman for The Guardian.

The Congressional devaluation of national property is the most far-reaching legislative change in a recent push to transfer federal lands to the states. Because of the Republican majority in Congress, bills proposing land transfers could now swiftly diminish Forest Service and BLM lands across the country..

Hansman details the losses to the federal budget and loss of public access. Furthermore, there are also substantial maintenance costs to these public lands that cash-strapped states may be unwilling to assume, which provides a powerful incentive to sell them, so it's not just an issue of transferring public lands between federal and state governments.

Opponents fear that local governments, especially in states with small budgets, won’t be able to invest in management and will sell off land to make money. Last summer, the Forest Service was spending $240m a week to suppress wildfires, and the Department of Interior estimates the cost of deferred maintenance, like updating roads, at around $11bn.

In December, Wyoming Governor Matt Mead [R] said that transferring public land to his state was legally and financially impractical. He cited firefighting costs on public land as something that the state budget wouldn’t have room for.

A blog by The Wilderness Society spotlights federal legislation advanced by Utah Congressmen Jason Chaffetz and Rob Bishop, both Republicans, to "sell off 3 million acres of public lands."

Hat tip to Loren Spiekerman.

Full Story:
Published on Thursday, January 19, 2017 in The Guardian
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