REPUBLICAN HOUSE VOTES TO ALLOW GIVEAWAYS OF FEDERAL LANDS
Republican House Votes to Allow Giveaways of Federal Lands
by Miriam Raftery
San Diego Republicans Duncan Hunter and Darrell Issa joined with the House Majority in voting for a rules change would allow giveaway of federal lands to states, local governments, or tribes. Potentially, such giveaways could include national parks such as Yosemite or the Grand Canyon. It also encompasses all other public lands; here in San Diego these include Cleveland National Forest, federal recreation areas and national wildlife preserves.
The provision is part of House Resolution 5, a rules package approved by a 233 to 190 vote. San Diego’s Democratic representatives Susan Davis, Scott Peters and Juan Vargas voted against the measure.
Republicans have claimed some federal lands have fallen into disrepair and that local governments would be better positioned to handle such properties for local benefits.
But Democrats warn that if protected federal lands are given away to local governments or tribes, cash-strapped local entities could later sell off those lands to developers. They contend that federal public lands should be managed for the benefit of all Americans, not just local communities.
The measure changes rules that costs be considered before any transfer can be made of federal lands that generate revenues for the U.S. Treasury, such as visitor fees, logging, grazing, or energy extraction. Any lost revenues would have to be offset through other revenue sources or budget cuts before public lands could be disposed of – until now.
The new rule approved by House Republicans would eliminate that requirement.
Arizona Congressman Rep. Raul Grijalva, the top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee, called the change “outrageous.” In a letter to fellow Democrats he wrote that the rule change will allow Congress to “give away every single piece of property we own, for free, and pretend we have lost nothing of any value. Not only is this fiscally irresponsible, but it is also a flagrant attack on places and resources valued and beloved by the American people.”
Alan Rowsome, senior government relations director for The Wilderness Society, accused Congressional Republicans of “declaring open season on federal lands.”
Ironically, it was Republican President Theodore Roosevelt who first established America’s national parks, forests and monuments systems as a means of forever preserving our most cherished places, as well as protecting environments for camping, fishing and hunting.
President-Elect Donald Trump has not embraced that view, nor has his nominee as Secretary of the Interior, Congressman Ryan Zinke, a Montana Republican. In fact, Zinke resigned as a GOP convention delegate last summer over this issue. Trump told Field and Stream last year that he believes “We have to be great stewards of this land” and that public lands should not be sold off during troubled times.
Whether or not Trump would defy the Republican-controlled Congress to sign bills giving away public lands, however, remains to be seen.
Miriam Raftery is editor-publisher of the award-winning website East County Magazine which, along with The Moderate Voice, is part of the San Diego Online News Association. This article is reprinted from that site.