So, Um, Hey—They’re Still Trying to Screw With Your Public Lands

Yes, it’s tough to keep track of Congress’s assault on our public commons. Here’s what you need to know now.

We’ve been quiet on the public lands front, but the new Congress and administration have not. This week, Congress voted to repeal a wonky but key regulation enacted shortly before Barack Obama left office that gave the public more say over Bureau of Land Management decisions. One might think that giving the public more say would be a good thing, but apparently not to the 115th Congress.

Here’s a look at what’s happening across public lands right now. Little of it’s good.

BLM Planning Rule 2.0

If the thought of reading about a planning rule makes you want to stick needles in your eyes, join the club. But this bureaucratic death-by-boredom issue is a big deal. The BLM oversees hundreds of millions of acres of your land, and the prior system for planning was last updated more than 30 years ago, in 1983. With a tremendous amount of input, the BLM developed a new method for planning, which brought stakeholders and the public into the process much sooner than the old.

“Under the current system, it takes an average of eight years for the BLM to finish a land use plan,” said BLM Director Neil Kornze before Obama passed 2.0. “Too often, by the time we’ve completed a plan, community priorities have evolved and conditions on the ground have changed as well. This update to our planning rule allows for a more streamlined process that also increases collaboration and transparency.”

It also required decisions to be made based on the best available science.

We know how Congress and the Trump administration feel about science. Today, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt said he believes that carbon dioxide is not a major contributor to global warming.

“Republican members of Congress want to silence the public voice on the management of public lands,” said Phil Hanceford, assistant director of The Wilderness Society’s BLM Action Center in Denver. “It’s a simple rule that allows for more transparency and more public opportunity for participation in the management of our public lands, period. And because of special interests getting involved, Congress essentially wants to roll that back. I find that asinine, and it’s also undemocratic.”

As said above, both the House and Senate voted to eliminate Planning 2.0. It next goes to Donald Trump for his signature, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t sign it.

Making matter worse, Congress is using the arcane Congressional Review Act to kick 2.0 to the grave—hang in there just a little longer—which blocks the BLM from ever implementing a similar planning system without approval of Congress. It not just that they’re knocking down the tower, they’re taking all the blocks away so you can’t build one again.

Utahns Still Trying to Steal Your Lands

Jason Chaffetz, who offended many with his statement that people are going to have to choose between buying an iPhone and health insurance, backed down on his proposal to sell off 3.3 million acres of your lands to states. His fellow Utah representative, Rob Bishop, is doing no such thing: Not only is Bishop trying to get federal lands in state hands, where they can be sold to extraction industries, he wants $50 million of America taxpapers’ money to pay for it. Outraged yet?

“It’s really unbelievable that Rob Bishop thinks he can ask the American taxpayer to hand over $50 million to facilitate giving away their lands,” said Lydia Weiss, director of government relations for lands with The Wilderness Society . “It’s like a mom asking her kid for his allowance so she can use the money to promote the sale of his toys.”

Bishop snuck his attempt in a budget bill late last week.

Photo by Andrew Burr

The Center for Western Priorities said in a statement, “It seems that Chairman Bishop just can’t take a hint. Despite overwhelming evidence that disposing of public lands is both financially irresponsible and politically toxic, Rob Bishop is once again trying to take American lands away from the American people. This time he’s asking taxpayers to foot a $50 million bill to ‘immediately’ start giving away America’s natural resources.

“By burying his budget request in a late Friday document dump, Chairman Bishop is admitting he knows his scheme is wildly unpopular, even within his own party. Both President Trump and Interior Secretary Zinke have spoken out clearly against Bishop’s land disposal agenda. This latest attempt to grease the skids for a land giveaway will be similarly dangerous for any Western member of Congress to embrace.”

What Is It With This State? Here’s More Utah Stuff

Man, you really need a scorecard to keep track of this stuff.

Utah still wants Trump to rescind the establishment of Bears Ears National Monument and dramatically reduce the boundaries of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument so it can dig up the billions in coal tucked away in the Kaiparowits Plateau. The loss of the Outdoor Retailer trade show, and, this week, the Grassroots Outdoor Alliance show, definitely stung: The state legislation is trying to bribe OR with $1 million to stay, and the Salt Lake city council pleaded for OR to come back.

Not likely at this point.

Photo by Marc Toso

In an opinion piece in today’s LA Times, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard wrote, “Public lands already get used for drilling and mining and grazing and other kinds of development, which makes good sense. But some places are simply too exceptional to put at risk. That’s why both political parties have long placed trust in our federal agencies to make appropriate decisions about the best use for our lands. It’s not a perfect system, but it works pretty well.

“These agencies, such as the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service, take into account the input of citizens, along with scientific and economic data, to provide a wide range of benefits from public lands.

“It’s outrageous that politicians would take away this oversight.”

Patagonia has doubled down on its support of Bears Ears. This week is launched a rich, deeply immersive look at the new monument and supported the effort with ads on the home page of the NY Times.

“Bears Ears National Monument is a sacred home for Native Americans, a world-class location for rock climbers and outdoor enthusiasts, and a mecca for archaeologists. But it is also a target for looters, mining and energy companies and elected officials who want to privatize and develop the nation’s public lands,” said Rose Marcario, Patagonia CEO. “It is our hope that this film will help to defend this national monument by bringing it to life and spurring action to protect this American treasure.”

Want to take action? Call your members of Congress and let them know how you feel.

Top photo of Bears Ears by Marc Toso

Adventure Journal is free but relies on reader support to make stories like this possible. Please join the thousands of your fellow adventurers and subscribe to our amazing printed quarterly or pick up an issue here.

Steve Casimiro is the editor of Adventure Journal.
Showing 2 comments
  • Will Rice

    Steve, thanks for this wonderful summation. AJ is doing just a tremendous job of balancing stoke and resource news in these often troubling times. Between you guys and HCN I’ve been able to stay sane while still staying informed. Thanks for that.

  • Sean

    Agree with the above.

    “AJ is doing just a tremendous job of balancing stoke and resource news in these often troubling times.” Well said, Will.

    Some actionable advice on how to get involved in the fight would not be unwelcome, either!

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