UPDATE: On May 19, E&E news reported that a land transfer and potential sale in Puerto Rico is off the table as of yesterday evening. The transfer of the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge to the government in Puerto Rico had become part of a controversial package for relieving the territory's debt. In April, when the transfer was proposed, we spoke out against selling off public lands as a way to pay debts. The outdoor community spoke out in force against selling off publicly-owned lands to pay off debts, and as a result, the land transfer was removed from the legislative package Congress is currently considering.
Outdoor Alliance has written often about the importance of public lands and our opposition to transferring them to states or private entities. One of the fears we have always had about these proposals is that states, if given control over federal public lands, would be tempted to sell those lands as a means of addressing temporary financial difficulties. This week, we are seeing a version of this dynamic beginning to take root in Congress as it considers legislation to respond to Puerto Rico’s debt crisis. Today, the House Natural Resources Committee will consider parts of a draft plan to address financial problems in Puerto Rico. One provision in the plan proposes giving away part of the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge, a stunning coastal landscape that has been described as one of the most spectacular in the entire system. The plan has a clear eye toward eventually privatizing this landscape, which is currently owned by all Americans. This bill would transfer thousands of acres of public land in Puerto Rico to the Commonwealth’s government, so that the government would be able to sell it off in order to the government’s debt.
Selling off public land should not be a solution to short-term financial problems, and Congress should not be setting this dangerous precedent. Outdoor Alliance submitted comments to the House this morning - read our official letter at right or by clicking right here.
And if you want to learn more about the public land heist and how prevent public lands from being transferred or sold off, you can sign the petition: