Senator Mike Lee of Utah Wants to Eliminate Public Lands As You Know Them

Decrying so-called ‘elites’ who hike and hunt, the senator proposes stripping authority from the BLM and Forest Service and gives states federal lands.

“And just as in feudal England, the federal government’s vast estate is 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,” Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, said in a recent speech to the anti-government think tank, the Sutherland Institute, where he compared national parks to “royal forests” and outlined his proposal to eliminate public lands as Americans know them.

Just days before millions of Americans flocked to national parks and monuments to celebrate Independence Day—upper-crust elite all of them, apparently—specifically because those lands are wild and free from development, Lee also announced via Twitter that “Our long-term goal must be the transfer of federal lands to the states.”

Lee advanced three policy proposals that would go a long way toward gutting all public land protections.

He wants to re-introduce a kind of Homestead Act, which would allow states and local groups to use federal land for, well, anything, really. Lee proposes housing developments to help alleviate affordable housing issues. Or using lands for unspecified research opportunities. Lee also wants to eliminate the Antiquities Act or at least make it extraordinarily difficult to set aside land to be kept free from development and damaging resource extraction. Finally, he proposes a bill that, very simply, will transfer all federal land to the states.

In his speech, the full text of which can be found here, Lee explains that the United States ought to return to the land policy and philosophy the country held in the 1800s. He celebrates that in the East and Midwest private land holdings dominate.

Elites, to Lee, are the only people who use federal lands. Not the millions upon millions of hikers, anglers, hunters, climbers, tourists, or the animals that call them home.

“These elites like to say that America’s federal lands are an inheritance for every American,” Lee said. “But the benefits they extol seem primarily to flow their way. They get their playgrounds in Aspen and Moab. They get their rustic cabins, craft breweries, and artisanal coffee shops.”

How would western states afford to control hundreds of millions of acres if the federal government dumped those lands in the lap of the states? Lee doesn’t say, but selling off huge swaths of land that had once been protected public lands to private developers could be the likely response.

Sen. Lee has in the past couple months also announced plans to strip authority from the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service.

Hunting groups and wilderness advocates immediately reacted to Lee’s speech with decidely negative responses.

“In other words, America’s public lands legacy is like a tree that is too large to fell in one swing, so he intends to chop and chop until it falls,” said Outdoor Life. “And if it falls, it will crush America’s hunting and fishing heritage on the way down.

“These bills are un-American, and they insult the millions of families who will spend the anniversary of our country’s independence on their public lands across the country,” Brad Brooks of The Wilderness Society said. “The Wilderness Society opposes any efforts to sell out our nation’s natural and cultural heritage to an elite few. We will hold Senator Lee and all members of Congress accountable for proposing to destroy our system of public lands.”

Lee has yet to announce a timetable for his planned legislative introductions.

Photos by Joe Leineweber (top), Gage Skidmore


Showing 13 comments
  • David S

    Justin – thanks for sharing.

    What are ways I, and other readers, can best counter these efforts and endorse and or fund people who are working directly to stop this and continue to preserve wild lands ?


    • Kyle


      • Chris

        Talk with folks who don’t know about the issue and educate them. They are being stolen from. Call, write, and email your local rep and tell them they will lose your vote if this isn’t resolved.

  • Chris

    Teddy Roosevelt is turning in his grave. I hope Teddy’s ghost comes back to haunt this schmuck and his oil/mining friends. Support hunting groups (yes they are a valuable ally in this fight) and obviously conservation groups.

  • Patrick

    Perhaps he doesn’t actually believe a word he is saying and is merely posturing- but who exactly does he think will buy these lands if they are put on sale? The penniless rest-of-us, or wealthy elites?

  • Shawn Stinson

    Lee is an embarrassment to, and blight on, the state of Utah. I beg all fellow Utahns to please vote this buffoon out of office.

  • Hill Abell

    Being a long-time mountain bike trail access advocate, I find this particularly ironic since Senator Lee is working with the Sustainable Trails Coalition to open designated Wilderness to bikes. My sense is he’d count mountain bikers in the “elites” category as we sure spend a lot of time in mtb playgrounds like Aspen and Moab, and drink copious amounts of craft beers and artisanal coffee when we’re there. But then what’s left after all else is plowed, grazed, timbered, drilled, mined or otherwise developed may be perfect for singletrack!

  • Ernest Nitka

    And its this BS that lost UTAH the Outdoor conventions – good!

  • Christopher

    An elite decrying other elites. Is that we’ve become?

  • Sharon

    What Lee is attempting is to divide public land advocacy groups and individuals so we don’t present a united voice/vote against his land grab. In allying himself with the Sustainable Trails Coalition, he is effectively dividing mountain bikers against mountain bikers in the discussion of bikes in wilderness, and pitting all mountain bikers against other wilderness advocates who perceive the bikes in wilderness movement as ALL mountain bikers against wilderness. Think IMBA versus the Sierra Club. He is using this division as one avenue, paved by division of his adversaries, with the goal of taking it all away and giving it to the real elite, the rich corporate extraction industry.

  • NatefromStowe

    Mike Lee is on the short list for Trump’s Supreme Court picks.

  • DanO

    Insanity. The only reason these western politicians want the Federal Lands in their hands is to sell them off, rent them and lease them. States with $ problems would be too sorely tempted to sell it all off. I don’t have much trust in the Federal Gov’t. but even less in State or local “come and go” politicos not to give away these public lands.

    I also don’t know how public lands with low fees where anyone can visit are “Royal Forests”. How is Aspen a Federal Land playground? It’s all private if its developed like the ski areas. How many of us went as working class families to Public lands or National Parks to camp for vacations? The elites went to private lodges in the Adirondaks and Cartskills in my world.

    Finally, this land never belonged to the “States” It belonged to the Federal Government as part of that territory and when statehood was granted it remained Federal land.

    This is not conservatism. And as much as I distrust the Federal bureaucracy, it is preferable to State and local A$$hat politcos who would sell it all off in a State economic crisis.

  • John Peterson

    Vote for Democrats…get your friends to vote for Democrats…donate money and time to Democratic candidates….get involved with Orgs that work to preserve public lands…

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