Stand For Our Land

1st of Mar 2017

By John McCarthy
March 1, 2017

Everyone who hikes, boats, or drives the open spaces of the West sees wildlife on the move. Pronghorn antelope, mule deer, red tail hawks – all the creatures of fur and feather move across the landscape regardless of any artificial, human boundaries.

Apparently Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who says he’s a hunter, doesn’t understand the dynamics of wildlife habitat – much less the role of public lands for people and wildlife.

In early February, Chaffetz backed down from his bill scheme to privatize more than 3 million acres of public lands after he got stuffed by an angry uprising of public land owners of all stripes – hunters, anglers, hikers, wildlife watchers, campers and arm chair adventurers.

When Chaffetz withdrew his bill he tried to brush it off, saying it “would have disposed of small parcels of land.” How do you “dispose” of 3 million acres? Sell it. What are “small parcels”? With almost 900,000 acres in Nevada, 800,000 in New Mexico and 700,000 in Wyoming – that’s a lot of small parcels.

County by county proposals for disposal ran in the thousands of acres – upwards of 10,000 acres in many cases. The claim that these plans were composed of multiple, smaller plots was not reassuring. It’s the aggregate, the full sweep of public lands that matter to wildlife, and to people. Chaffetz claimed these lands “served no public purpose.” The people did not buy it.

People all over the country smelled a rat with Chaffetz’s scheme to sell off lands without public involvement and environmental review. We didn’t fear it was the first step to undercut our public land legacy. We know Chaffetz’s scam is only the beginning of state and private takeover of public lands – unless the same broad coalition of people who inundated his office with protest calls and letters stand together to oppose the next attempt.

Laws enacted to insist on multiple resource management plans for public lands – including wildlife, water and air – are there for a reason. Putting public lands in state or private hands drastically weakens land protection and public access laws.

Just as Chaffetz was shut down – as has been done before in more than a century of public land take-over attempts – a broad, unified front of sporting and conservation interests is the proven defense of our lands.
The good news is, people are on the alert and organized. The bad news is, there will continue to be more threats to the coalition for public lands. 

One of many opportunities to show strength and unity will be the Rally for Public Lands at the Idaho State Capitol steps in Boise. All over the West – and all over the country – people will be taking similar actions to stand up for our public lands. Join the fight!

John McCarthy spent decades on staff at conservation organizations, before turning it over to able younger people and becoming a jazz disc jockey at Radio Boise.