Following backlash from conservationists across the Western states, Rep. Jason Chaffetz announced that he is pulling a bill that would have sold off more than 3 million acres of federal land.
“I am withdrawing HR 621,” Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, wrote in an Instagram post Wednesday night about the proposed legislation. “I’m a proud gun owner, hunter and love our public lands. The bill would have disposed of small parcels of lands Pres. Clinton identified as serving no public purpose but groups I support and care about fear it sends the wrong message. The bill was originally introduced several years ago. I look forward to working with you. I hear you and HR 621 dies tomorrow.”
The bill was introduced to the House on Jan. 24 and would have directed the secretary of the interior to sell off lands in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming. A 1997 report to Congress identified the acreage but warned that “many lands identified appear to have conflicts which may preclude them from being considered for disposal or exchange.” The parcels, whose borders haven’t changed in the intervening years, comprise an area roughly the size of Connecticut.
The pushback to Chaffetz’s bill culminated in a rally of more than 1,000 people at the Montana statehouse Monday.
“This ain’t about politics, whether you’re a Democrat or Republican or Libertarian or vegetarian, these lands belong to you,” Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said during the demonstration. “They’re our heritage. They’re our economy. They’re our quality of life. Jeopardizing what it means to be a Montanan and transferring those lands is wrong-headed. I’m pleased to stand here today and say loud and clear — I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — wholesale transfer of public lands will not happen. Not on my watch.”
The Public Lands in Public Hands rally was set up by an alliance of conservation groups and featured speeches from Bullock and U.S. Senator Jon Tester (via cell phone). More than 46,000 people have signed one petition against the land transfer. Hundreds more from across the political spectrum gathered for a similar protest in Santa Fe, N.M.
A photo posted by Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (@backcountryhunters) on Jan 30, 2017 at 12:41pm PST
“I’ve never been a public activist before, but, boy, I am now,” Montana resident Teri Sinopoli told the Great Falls Tribune.
The Montana-based outdoors group Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, of which Donald Trump Jr. is a member, was a major opponent of the legislation. The group also opposed the rumored nomination of Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., for secretary of the interior due to her “misguided positions on public lands.” The Cabinet nomination went to Rep. Ryan Zinke of Montana.
“Representative Chaffetz should never have introduced this ill-conceived bill,” said BHA President and CEO Land Tawney in a statement Thursday, “but the instant and overwhelming response by sportsmen and women forced him to listen and ultimately abandon HR 621, which would have seized millions of acres of public lands. His fellow lawmakers should take note of the ire and rapid response by hunters and anglers. We aren’t going away.”
But conservationists, including Tawney, are not done fighting legislation introduced by Republican members of Congress.
“Unfortunately, there are those who will continue to perpetrate bad deals like this one,” Tawney’s statement said. “American hunters and anglers will be there every step of the way. Mr. Chaffetz took the first step. Now he needs to kill HR 622, the Local Enforcement for Local Lands Act, which would eliminate hundreds of critical law enforcement jobs with the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. Our law enforcement officers are on the frontlines of conservation and already do more with less. Let’s give them the resources they need to do their jobs.”
In January, Congress passed a rule, also opposed by the BHA, that would make it easier to transfer federal land to the states, disregarding their economic value for tourism and recreation. Arizona congressman Paul A. Gosar submitted a resolution earlier this week that would hamper the National Park Service’s ability to limit drilling and mining in national parks.