I break the world of ideas into three categories. Good ideas, bad ideas and this idea.
In 2012, Utah passed the Utah Transfer of Public Lands Act, a uniquely cynical piece of legislation that demanded the U.S. government transfer all federally owned public lands to the state.
While perhaps the most egregious example of a state attempting to seize public lands, it is far from the only example. Coloradans need look no further than a bill introduced this year by state Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, that goes under the innocuous moniker Senate Bill 15-039.
While the details differ, all of these efforts revolve around one putrid core: They are more or less lifted from a resolution crafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council. You probably know about ALEC; if not, just think of the council as the world’s resident generator of horrid ideas – ideas which, for reasons that are inexplicable without invoking the tyranny of dogma, make the farthest right salivate.
Here’s the thing we all need to know about these efforts: They have little to do with states rights and everything to do with the mythical right of corporations to destroy the remaining vestiges of what is wild and good in America. Here’s how.
Can you imagine how much money it takes to manage the 583 million acres of federal lands in the West? A lot. These fees are subsidized by spreading the cost of managing those lands across every taxpaying American.
Let’s just look at Utah. The Beehive State is home to 0.9 percent of the U.S. population but 5.5 percent of the country’s public lands. How, exactly, is Utah going to support stewardship of the federal lands it so desperately wants to appropriate without help from the rest of America?
Take a peek at that ALEC resolution, because it tells us in plain English. “WHEREAS, unleashing in a responsible manner the trillions of dollars of abundant resources locked up on federally controlled lands ...” Blah, whereas, blah.
Folks, it’s simple. To pay for the management of these huge swaths of lands, states would need to lease every available acre of once-federal lands to the industry of highest bidding. This isn’t some unfortunate side effect of state’s rights legislation – it’s the point. So here’s an interesting statistic for those policy wonks at ALEC dreaming up ways to transfer public wealth to private corporations: Though you wish we were selfish, provincial and purely self-serving (as you undoubtedly are), 72 percent of Coloradans think of federal lands as American lands, not Coloradan lands.
We view ourselves as stewards of the uniquely American and thoroughly astounding network of federal lands that makes the West an incredible place to live, work and recreate. We don’t want them for ourselves.
Federal public lands are our shared American heritage, one we will fight to protect as such with all the vigor of people entrusted with something precious.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Dan Olson is executive director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance.