Privatize our public lands? No way!

By Arran Robertson of Portland, Oregon. Arran is the Communications Coordinator for Oregon Wild where he works to preserve and protect Oregon's wildlands, wildlife, and waters.

After receiving a number of threatening phone calls, the Bureau of Land Management learned there would be an armed protest of their Southwestern Oregon offices by anti-government groups. The “Oath Keepers” and a number of other groups claiming to defend the Constitution had flocked to a pair of mining operators having an administrative disagreement with the BLM. Emboldened by the success of scofflaw rancher Cliven Bundy a year earlier, and with the approval of the local Josephine County Sheriff, the groups were preparing for what many of them clearly hoped would be an armed show-down with federal officials.

Reiterating that this was an administrative dispute and fearing for the safety of their employees, the BLM announced the Medford and Grants Pass offices would be closed for public business on Thursday, April 23.

But incidents like this and the showdown last year over Bundy’s illegal cattle grazing are not the real battleground for the heart of America’s public lands. Nor is it the actions of those like the Grant County Sheriff who refuses to acknowledge federal authority on federal lands. No, those who are truly threatening to seize American public’s lands aren’t dressed in camo hefting AK-47s, but sitting behind desks with a big check from the fossil fuel and timber industries.

Although legal scholars have declared land transfer schemes unconstitutional and economists have pointed out that states do not have the resources to responsibly manage these lands, the idea continues to gain momentum in the highest reaches of our government. The US Senate recently signaled its support for the “disposal” of America’s public lands, and Sen. Ted Cruz is making the sale of public lands a cornerstone of his presidential campaign. Invigorated by this type of support, a Utah State politician has gone on the road to peddle the snake oil. At least two cash strapped Oregon counties – Klamath and Wallowa – have ponied up taxpayer funds to support the endeavor. Clackamas County has thrown its hat into the ring with a statement of support. Lest you be worried there isn’t big money behind the effort, Americans for Prosperity is there as well!

The Oregon legislature is also in on the action. Legislators recently gave public hearing to a number of bills that envision Oregon forcing the United States government to hand over Crater Lake National Park, Mount Hood National Forest, the Three Sisters Wilderness, Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, Fort Clatsop and the Lewis and Clark National Historic Park, and other beloved areas. These particular proposals were spawned by out-of-state special interest groups, specifically the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and Koch-brothers funded Americans for Prosperity. One bill, HB 3444, has large sections cut-and-pasted from an ALEC web site. The Koch-brothers and ALEC are no friends of National Parks, environmental conservation, or wildlife--their vision is seeing America’s public lands privatized.

And even if Oregon could raise the money to administer these lands, our weak logging and mining rules would put them at risk. Imagine clearcuts returning to the Mount Hood National Forest, pesticides and sediment clouding the Rogue River, and hundreds of miles of new logging and mining roads crisscrossing previously undeveloped wilderness areas from the Wallowas to the Three Sisters. Oregon’s reputation as a leader for outdoor recreation would evaporate, and many of the major outdoor companies and thousands jobs that have located here based on that reputation, would consider relocating. No one comes to Oregon to go hiking in a clearcut, or wildlife-watching in a strip mine.

Many of those who love our Oregon treasures will be gathering in Portland this weekend at the 2015 Oregon Wilderness Conference. The theme of this year’s conference is “Stand by Your Land” and we will be discussing how we preserve and protect the places that make Oregon special. This is an opportunity for those who understand the value of Wilderness and would like to see more of Oregon’s iconic wildlands protected to come together and push back against radical proposals that seek to liquidate Oregon’s natural treasures for short-term profit.

I invite you to join us and “Stand by Your Land.”

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