Let's Keep and Care for Our Public Lands

February 1, 2017

Western Landowners Alliance today sent a letter to Congress opposing two bills that would sell more than 3 million acres of public land and remove federal law enforcement from all federal lands. HR 621 would direct the Department of Interior to sell lands identified in a 1997 report as potentially disposable. However, as the report details, these lands also provide grazing, support endangered species and other wildlife, contain archeological artifacts and other publicly important values.

On his website, Representative Chaffetz of Utah who has introduced the bills says,“The long overdue disposal of excess federal lands will free up resources for the federal government while providing much-needed opportunities for economic development in struggling rural communities.” We disagree. The sale of federal lands reduces access to grazing, habitat for wildlife and recreational opportunities–all of which are important to our local economies, quality of life and our future.

According to a recent Headwaters Economics study “From 1970-2014, population, employment, and personal income on average all grew significantly faster—three times more rapidly or more—in western rural counties with the highest share of federal lands compared to counties with the lowest share of federal lands. Per capita income growth was slightly higher.”

As WLA said in our letter, we fully appreciate that the exchange of public and private lands can be beneficial to resolve checkerboard ownership patterns, management and access issues. In fact, more could be done to expedite exchanges that truly are mutually beneficial. However, we do not support the outright sale of millions of acres of public land that sustain our ranches, communities, wildlife and the natural resources on which we all depend.

HR 622 would remove federal law enforcement from all federal lands, replacing it with block grants to states. As landowners and managers who work in these remote landscapes, we believe natural resource management and law enforcement on federal lands is best handled by a trained workforce dedicated specifically to those tasks.

We all agree that the management of federal lands can be improved and we believe there is an important role for place-based collaboration in planning and decision making. We’d like to see better cooperation among federal, state and local agencies, more local input and better outcomes for both working lands and wildlife. If these lands are privatized, none of that is possible.

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