Public Access Ensured by Keeping Public Lands in Public Hands

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Summary: The desire of some states and local governments to own or control federal public lands carries significant repercussions for backcountry pack and saddle stock users. State-managed lands, for example, typically do not embrace the multiple-use mandate that guides federal land management agencies and includes promoting diverse opportunities for public outdoor recreation. There remains great uncertainty as to whether the type of access currently enjoyed by BCHA members to federal public lands would continue under either state or local control or management.

Non-Binding Senate Budget Resolution

The U.S. Senate approved on March 26, 2015, a budget resolution that would establish a procedure for selling, exchanging or transferring to the states federal lands that are not national parks, monuments or reserves. The amendment was sponsored by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Chairman of the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee.

Budget Request in the House of Representatives

Also in March 2015, the Chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, Rep. Rob Bishop, requested $50 million for the Fiscal Year 2016 federal budget in order to facilitate immediate transfer of public lands to states control.

Additional Downsides of Federal Land Transfer

There are numerous “downsides” to large-scale transfer to, or control of, federal public lands by the states. For example, states and local governments typically do not have the multiple use mandates by which federal agencies must abide (e.g., protection of watersheds, wildlife, fisheries, historic resources, promotion of recreation, commodity development, etc.). In contrast, states and counties typically take a myopic view of the benefits provided by public lands and are forced to maximize revenue, often to the
detriment of other uses, including recreation. Were local governments to choose to maximize revenue through the enhancement of recreational opportunities, the result invariably would be higher fees for recreational access and amenities.

There also are issues associated with the lack of wildland fire-fighting resources/capability by the states and the potential for states/counties to sell off formerly public lands to the highest bidder, including billionaires and global corporations. These are some of potential downsides of the transfer of federal lands—the least of which would be great uncertainty over the public’s ability to continue to access public lands in a manner that American citizens have been accustomed for over 150 years.

Conclusion

BCHA views the potential for large-scale transfer of federal lands to the states with great skepticism and concern. While our members continue to take issue, sometimes significantly, with indiscriminate restrictions to recreational stock use, we would much rather contend with federal multiple-use management agencies than grapple with 50 different state bureaucracies in order to ensure our continued use and enjoyment of public lands.


[1] The Colorado College State of the Rockies Report: Conservation in the West Poll (2015), available online here
[2] Public Opinion Strategies, Sept. 2014, available here

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