Local conservation organization Wilderness Workshop came out swinging on Friday, rallying its members to oppose a bill that calls for the sale of 3.3 million acres of Bureau of Land Management lands across 10 Western states, including Colorado.
HR 621 was introduced by U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, just a few days after the House passed a rules package that greased the skids for such land sales by removing any financial impacts to the federal budget of auctioning off public lands or transferring them to the states.
In Colorado, 93,741 acres of land would be up for sale to the highest bidder, according to the Wilderness Workshop. Over 1,700 acres of that land is in Garfield County, while another 320 is in Gunnison County.
Wilderness Workshop conservation director Will Roush said he had no idea which particular local parcels are included in Chaffetz’s legislation.
“We’ve been trying to track this down,” he said. “It’s tough. The best we have so far is the report from some 1996 legislation, which identified the lands this bill proposes to sell. I still don’t know which parcels.”
The Bureau of Land Management could shed no additional light.
“I can’t comment on proposed legislation,” said David Boyd, BLM public affairs officer for northwest Colorado. “I looked online but couldn’t find anything. Some of our land-use plans identify ‘lands for disposal.’ These are typically small, isolated parcels that are difficult to manage and may not have public access.”
Roush called Chaffetz’s bill to sell off public lands to the highest bidder “an affront to all Americans.
“Public lands form the backbone of the economy and quality of life in Colorado and across the West. Selling more than three million acres of land would be the epitome of short-sightedness and rob future generations of their birthright,” he said.
Roush added that public lands are overwhelmingly popular across the West and in Colorado — with 72 percent of voters in Western states saying they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who supports selling public lands to reduce the budget.
“Selling these lands is also the height of short-term thinking,” Roush said. “Public lands provide direct revenue to the treasury and fuel the $646 billion outdoor-recreation economy in perpetuity. Selling them for a one-time boost to the Treasury is economically short-sighted.”
According to the Wilderness Workshop, Congress is also jumping the gun.
“These lands were identified in 1997 for ‘potential’ disposal or possible trade, oftentimes to help provide better access or trade for important private lands,” said a Wilderness Workshop press release. “Selling them to pay off the debt was never what they were identified for.”
In response to the introduction of HR 621, Wilderness Workshop issued a Capital Watch alert e-mail and posted information on Facebook. As of Monday morning, over 3,000 people had viewed the post.
Chaffetz introduced another bill, HR 622, at the same time that would strip the BLM and Forest Service of all law-enforcement responsibilities and transfer that authority to local law-enforcement agencies.
“This would further reduce the ability of federal agencies to adequately manage public lands and lead to more violations of important protections for public lands,” according to Wilderness Workshop.