From public lands to private hands
“We abuse land because we see it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” ― Aldo Leopold
Attacks on public lands are not a new phenomenon. Since the inception of our public lands system, some people have seen their creation as a threat to their ability to profit off these lands. When William Taft succeeded Theodore Roosevelt as president in 1921, he immediately tried to dismantle the newly created forest reserves upon the urging of logging, mining and railroad companies. The first wave of attacks was defeated, but in the 1940s, 1970s and now in the last few years, new movements to seize and privatize public lands have arisen.
Each time attacks on our public lands occur, the rhetoric is the same – “The big, bad government is mismanaging your lands”. Land seizure proponents argue that public lands would be much better under state or private control. But these same seizure promoters are backing policies that promote mismanagement of our public lands. Over the past few decades, budgets for managing federal lands have significantly decreased despite increasing needs. Firefighting costs have skyrocketed. The problem is a lack of resources to manage our precious public lands, and transferring lands out of public ownership would only make the problem worse.
More than 50 bills to seize public lands were introduced in 2015 in state legislatures throughout the US, and the vast majority were soundly defeated. After so many losses, seizure proponents changed strategy in 2016 and began promoting bills that undermine federal authority to manage public lands. These misguided efforts stem from the same extreme ideas that culminated in the standoff at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.