U.S. Congressman withdraws federal bill to sell off public lands
Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah’s 3rd Congressional District introduced a bill to the U.S. House last week to sell more than 3.3 million acres of Bureau of Land Management property across 10 western states. House Bill 621, titled the “Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act of 2017” quickly came up against an outpouring of resistance from environmentalists, sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts, and late-Wednesday evening, Chaffetz announced he would withdraw the proposed legislation.
“I hear you,” the Tea Party Republican wrote on his personal Instagram account. “I’m a proud gun owner, hunter and love our public lands. Groups I support and care about fear it sends the wrong message. HR 621 dies tomorrow.”
Among the land to be sold, the bill recommended the U.S. Department of the Interior jettison 94,000 acres of public space in Colorado spanning 29 counties based on a survey document produced 20 years prior. That may have included an important 160-acre parcel in Summit just north of Green Mountain Reservoir on the Grand County border that has since become part of the White River National Forest.
The gold medal-designated Blue River bisects this property, and its potential sale for less than $1,500 an acre to a non-federal agency soon generated concerns among local officials over the prospect of losing public access to it. For now, Chaffetz’s announcement ends those worries, and environmentalists considered it an early victory, though it remains unclear what may lie on the horizon.
“It’s not surprising given how haphazard it was,” Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians, said of the bill’s Thursday cancellation. “But I’m sure we won’t see the end of hare-brained schemes like this from members of Congress opposed to the concept of public lands.”
What Chaffetz will maintain, though, is the partner legislation, House Bill 622. If passed, the law would eliminate U.S. Forest Service and BLM law enforcement functions over the nation’s public lands. Instead, he wishes to grant those duties to local agencies and reimburse them for it based on the percentage of public space in those communities.
“It’s time to get rid of the BLM and U.S. Forest Service police,” he states on his congressional website. “By restoring local control in law enforcement, we enable federal agencies and county sheriffs to each focus on their respective core missions.”
Also introduced on Jan. 24, House Bill 622 presently sits with the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee, of which Chaffetz is a member. The Daily will continue to track the proposed law’s progress this legislative cycle.
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