A U.S. Senator from Utah called for public lands to be privatized in a speech detailing his three-part, long-term plan, a disturbing vision that shows attempts to wrestle prime hunting grounds and fisheries away from us must still be guarded against.
Mike Lee, the state’s junior senator and who is among several who’ve been spoken to about the pending Supreme Court vacancy, said that national forests, Bureau of Land Management and other held-in-common terrains and treasures should be transferred out of the nation at large’s hands.
He says his “new Homestead Act” is a bid to make housing more affordable and would also open up land outside of national parks and monuments for development such as schools and research centers.
“This is not a fiefdom of kings or royal forests. It is a constitutional republic for all, not the select,” said Lee in the speech late last week before the Sutherland Institute, a conservative market policy think tank based in Salt Lake City.
His plan caught the skeptical eyes of Outdoor Life magazine as well as Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, which urged sportsmen to spread the word against it via hashtags such as #keepitpublic and #publiclandowner.
While there is debate over how the federal government should manage our myriad lands for multiple uses, there can hardly be any doubt about who can in fact enjoy them.
All of us.
Yet Lee claims — preposterously — they’re now “preserved for the enjoyment of the very few: For an upper-crust elite who want to transform the American West into so many picturesque tourist villages and uninhabited vistas.”
Yet essentially that would be what would happen if Lee’s grand vision were to take effect.
Rather than the building of noble universities in the woods and mesas, it’s far more likely we would see endless Aspens and Moabs and Bends, places that ironically Lee dismisses despite people there having found a way how to make a buck out of the plentiful recreation on public land that’s otherwise been ridden hard over the past century and a half.
Lee’s ideas follow those of fellow Utah politicians Bob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz, the latter of whom withdrew one transfer proposal after outcry from Northwest sportsmen and others and who eventually left the U.S. House of Representatives in spring 2017.
They’re typically promulgated through creative readings of legal documents, and law Lee cites from Utah’s enabling legislation that he feels requires the sale of federal land actually appears to focus on “agricultural public land,” which in the West tends to be in the river valleys, not straight public land, as he states in his speech.
While his plan is packaged as a gift to the common man, it’s not really.
Giving away national forests and BLM parcels is not going to make it magically rain and grow more grass for cattle to graze.
It’s not going to make trees on higher and drier pine mountainsides add board feet faster.
It’s not going to make the drive to real jobs any shorter, the cost of milk any cheaper or the price of gas go down for those who would take up his offer to move to cheap housing projects in fire country.
And it’s not going to bring back the boom times that were.
In fact, Lee’s supposed gift of “millions of acres of federal land to hard working families,” as he tweeted about the original Homestead Act, is as valuable as oceanfront property purchased in Arizona.
All the best of the West was claimed long, long ago, along with the marginal lands where it’s economically more and more difficult to make a living from the earth due to larger factors at play than federal management.
It’s likely the new owners of the national forests would quickly unload them. And who would end up with them?
Certainly not someone who would allow me on once-public lands without having to pay a steep fee, undoubtedly.
That’s unacceptable to me.
In Lee’s speech, he argues that the high percentage of public land we enjoy in the West is somehow unfair to us.
“How did it come to pass that the Land of the Free became a land of stunning inequality?” he asks. “Where nearly half of the land in the West—more than 600 million acres — is owned by the federal government, compared to just 5 percent of the land in the East?”
And that’s somehow a good thing for Easterners?
Not in my world view. It’s also what makes the West the Best.
Have a great Fourth of July, everyone, hopefully on my and your forever-public lands.