Congress Puts Public Lands in the Crosshairs

In the months following November’s election, the 115th Congress has put America’s public lands in the crosshairs. Congress did not waste any time, and on the first day of its new session passed a “rules package” containing a provision (Section 3(q)(1) of H.Res. 5 (p. 35)) that makes it easier for lawmakers to transfer public lands to state governments.

The provision characterizes land transfers as “budget neutral,” allowing Congress to ignore the significant economic value of public lands to local communities. Lawmakers would no longer have to find a spending offset or get a waiver.

This budgetary maneuver removes a major check-and-balance on the protection of America’s public lands. Utah Congressman Bishop characterized the rule change as a common-sense fix to a "stupid accounting trick that would help the House Natural Resources Committee move legislation more efficiently." Bishop continued, "All this says is I don't have to go through the procedural stupidity."

Checks and balances on public land transfer initiatives are necessary to protect Americans’ interests. And it is a well-established fact that public lands are significant economic drivers. Oddly, Congress also passed a law that mandates the Bureau of Economic Analysis to assess the economic impact of the outdoor recreation economy. Does Congress not understand that outdoor recreation is intrinsically tied to the public lands where we climb, ride, hunt, ski and paddle?

This newly adopted House rules package is a troubling step toward dismantling the public lands system that is our American birthright. With over half of America’s climbing areas on public land, public land transfer may be the greatest access issue climbers have ever encountered.

Access Fund, and our partners at Outdoor Alliance, remain vigilant in the protection of America’s public lands. Please stay tuned for action alerts and updates.

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