It’s not often that you’ll find vegans, hunters, conservationists, and politicians, on the same side the table – metaphorically and literally. But when U.S. representative and Tea Party Republican Jason Chaffetz of Utah, proposed that the United States sell off 3.3 million acres of public land across ten states, there was a huge outcry from, well, pretty much everybody. But before we get to the protests against this proposal, it’s important to understand how Chaffetz aims to undertake this sale.
The Representative from Utah has proposed two bills that would have catastrophic impacts on the public lands in the United States. Bill 622 would strip the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service of law enforcement capabilities, making it impossible for them to maintain the public lands over which they have dominion. The second bill is the big one – Bill 621. This bill states that 3.3 million acres of public land in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming serve “no purpose for taxpayers,” and that these lands should be sold to and developed by private interests. It should be noted that Chaffetz’s statement it based off of a survey from 1997 that was prefaced with this statement: “Please note many lands identified appear to have conflicts which may preclude them from being considered for disposal or exchange.”
Here are a few of the conflicts the survey was referencing: These land public lands are used for public recreation and provide space for outdoor enthusiasts to bike, camp, and climb. They also provide essential habitat for species like elk and big-horned sheep. These public lands also contain essential habitat for several endangered species as well as wetlands that hold unique cultural significance to native peoples. The privatization of these lands would leave the ecosystems within them completely unprotected, it would deny access to hunters and outdoor enthusiasts as well.
This proposal has people from all corners furious. The Senior Director of Government Relations at The Wilderness Society, Alan Rowsome told the Guardian, “We didn’t see [the legislation] coming. I think it was sneaky and underhanded,” and he worries about the precedent such legislation could set. Around 60 percent of Alaska is made up of public land and these bills would leave the state dangerously exposed to privatization and exploitation. And while the privatization of these lands could spell disaster for ecosystems, by selling off these lands, we are doing a disservice to future generations as well. John Gale, conservation director for Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, told the Guardian, “It’s not only an assault on our traditions, it’s the idea that they’re stealing that from our children.”
These public lands are the inheritance of generations that will come after us, and we need to protect them. Write to your U.S. representative and tell them you care about our public lands. Share this post with friends and educate them on this legislation. If we all use our voices, we can make enough noise to stop this irresponsible proposal!
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