Republicans are literally giving our land away. With one line of legislation, the GOP has devalued federal land—our land—making it easier than ever before to reassign these shared grounds to the states. However, these states are largely not unable to afford the upkeep that goes into supporting this type of land.
This means that not only will the government and the people lose if federal land is transferred, but the states will too. And losing is putting it mildly. Federal land is the second largest revenue generator after taxes, according to the Outdoor Alliance. In particular, the land under control of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), National Forests and Federal Wildlife Refuges contributes to $646bn in economic stimulus, not to mention 6.1m jobs. Last year alone BLM claimed $2bn from federal leases. This revenue is largely attributed to recreation. If the land is transferred, public and mixed use will become immediately restricted—meaning you will no longer be able to visit some of the most beautiful places in the country.
So who stands to gain from such a dramatic overhaul, which threatens to literally upend the fabric of our nation? The answer is simple; those who can afford to take the land for themselves, building property on it for development, and much more dangerously on a global scale, the mining industry. At stake is a huge amount of land, approximately 640m acres, including the Grand Canyon area, which holds uranium and copper. Our very own backyard is about to be decimated in front of us, and we are powerless to stop it.
Republicans are denying not only the emotional or physiological worth of this land, but are also lying about the proven monetary worth that it brings to the government. Rob Bishop, Utah Republican representative who drafted the language regarding land use in the House budget has claimed it has no value at all. The line states that moving federal land to “state, local government or tribal entity shall not be considered as providing new budget authority, decreasing revenues, increasing mandatory spending or increasing outlays.”
By claiming the land is worthless, he has enacted legislation that gives Congress the greenlight to take away federal land, claiming it will not decrease revenue or contribute to debts—although this could not be more removed from the truth.
States have already begun planning how they will manage this new land, and it is likely that many will default to mining and development. Wyoming Senate President Eli Bebout is already considering how the land will be managed, with the state senate amending their constitution.
Alan Rowsome, senior director of government relations at The Wilderness Society, commented on this awful turn of events, saying, “This is the worst Congress for public lands ever.” “Public lands” are now added to the growing list of the many issues this is the worst Congress ever for—with reproductive rights and healthcare also making the list. “We didn’t see it coming. I think it was sneaky and underhanded. It exemplifies an effort to not play by the rules,” he continued. Again, this should be no surprise given the GOP’s track record, but it is still tremendously painful.
Resource-rich land such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which has oil, could be up for sale to the highest bidder. About 60% of the state of Alaska is made up of such national land, but again, this is on the chopping block, regardless of the environment or the people. “It’s amazing ecosystem and worthy of protection, and it’s very likely that House Republican majority will open that up for drilling,” Rowsome said.
Giving federal land to states has been a Republican policy since Regan declared himself a “Sagebush Rebel”—this has since progressed to the situation we are in now, where Republicans will gladly give away ALL federal land.
Keeping this land as a shared American benefit is hugely popular across party lines. A 2016 survey concluded that 95% of Americans feel the National Parks deserve to be protected, with an overwhelming 80% majority saying they would pay higher taxes to ensure this happens.
Again, giving this land to the states is financially unfeasible and a poor decision—it cost the Forest service $240m every week to keep fires at bay; the Dept. of Interior estimates the costs of roads and general maintenance at approximately $11bn. States cannot afford this and will default to developers, selling away the great lands which once belonged to the nation to the highest bidder.
John Gale, conservation director for the advocacy group Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, commented on how illogical it is to break up national land on state lines; “70% of the headwaters of our streams and rivers in the West are on public lands,” he explained. “Rivers and migratory corridors don’t follow state boundaries.”
Like nearly all of their policies, the Trump administration has not defined their position on federal land. The President-elect has met with groups who favor land transfer, while also speaking out against it. Either way, land transfer defies the Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact Act of 2016, which was passed in November. The act requires that the Department of Commerce include the revenue generated from these great lands into our GDP. It is telling that under Obama, our land had value.
“It’s not just natural resources that are on the auction block, but jobs,” continued Gale. “For a party that prides itself on being fiscally conservative,” he added of the Republicans, “they’re talking out of both sides of their mouth.”
It is evident The GOP has proved time and again that they have no investment in this country; even the most base level—our national land, Republicans are claiming has no value. They are literally ignoring the numbers because these numbers do not directly line their pockets. There is no greater good in Republican policy, only every man for himself. The GOP is giving away our nation for a dime, so that developers and miners can swoop in and profit, all while destroying the ecosystem and turning the majestic landscape of own backyard, the land we are entitled to as a birthright, into a wasteland.
Christine is an avid supporter of progressive politics. She is currently getting her Masters degree after concentrating in Gender Studies as an undergrad.