A new piece of legislation introduced by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) would direct the secretary of the interior to sell off 3.3 million acres of federal land across 10 states.
Chaffetz claims the land, maintained by the Bureau of Land Management, serves "no purpose for taxpayers," and selling it would provide "much-needed opportunities for economic development in struggling rural communities." Conservationists and sportsmen disagree. "Last I checked, hunters and fishermen were taxpayers," Jason Amaro, a representative for the southwest chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, told The Guardian. Amaro lives in New Mexico, a state that brings in $650 million annually due to hunting and fishing and could lose 800,000 acres of BLM land. He also noted that turning even just a tiny parcel of federal land private can cut off access to thousands of acres of public land.
BLM land is leased for oil, gas, and timber, open to nature enthusiasts, and home to wolves, grizzly bears, and big game species. The acreage identified in the bill was marked in a 1997 survey by the Clinton administration, and many of the thousands of parcels have cultural significance or host endangered species, The Guardian reports. Experts say the bill, which was introduced at the same time as another piece of legislation that would take law enforcement capabilities away from the BLM and U.S. Forest Service, could also be in violation of the Public Trust Doctrine, which requires the federal government to keep and manage national resources for all Americans. "It's not only an assault on our traditions," John Gale, conservation director for Backcountry Hunters and Anglers in Montana, told The Guardian. "It's the idea that they're stealing that from our children."