Over the summer, Utah Senator Mike Lee proposed a series of bills that were a little unhinged, including one he called “The New Homestead Act” that would eliminate public lands entirely so that the west could look more like “Missouri or Illinois.” What surprised us most about these proposals wasn’t that they were nutty….it’s that they were so transparent in their ultimate goals.
Under pressure from extractive industries and special interests who would like public lands for themselves, lawmakers in the west have been waging a battle for years now to try to wrest control of public lands from the hands of the people. Early on, these were guileless attempts to steal public lands from the people. State houses introduced copycat legislation that demanded the American people give up their public lands so that states could sell them off, mine, drill, dig, or build on them.
But public lands are popular with Americans. Really popular! And Americans are reluctant to have our public lands taken over, sold off, closed up, or given away so the public land heist was really unpopular.
Realizing this, the lawmakers behind the public land heist have changed their approach. The new public land heist wants the same ends – transferring control of public lands to a privileged few – but it uses more subtle tactics.
The new public land heist is far more insidious because it would slowly transfer authority on public lands away from the public, so slowly that most people wouldn’t even notice. Its tactics include things like:
Curtailing the public process or straight up ignoring public input.
Accelerating development projects on public lands, regardless of whether they make sense, have real economic benefits, or are welcomed by locals.
Illegally rolling back permanent protections on public lands, and setting up sham “committees” that are stacked with anti-public lands officials.
Starving land management agencies to make it impossible for them to take care of our shared landscapes. It’s death by a thousand cuts, and all together, these tactics will cause more damage to public lands and be harder to defend against.
That’s what makes Mike Lee’s proposals so unusual. He was transparent about his goal of taking public lands from the people, and letting a few big industries decide on the future of our shared resources. It’s not surprising that people were outraged about his ideas. But if people could see behind the curtain, they’d realize that Mike Lee might get his way even if his bills never see the light of day. The more real and insidious threats to public land ownership are nowhere near over.
Over the next few weeks, we are letting you in on the three schemes the anti-public land lawmakers hope you don’t pay attention to, and how the outdoor recreation community is already stopping this public land heist in its tracks.