America's Public Lands are Being Sold-off and Most Don't Care
One of the things that made America great was the country's vast public lands that people could enjoy. That greatness is under threat and few seem to care.
A group of corrupt Republican U.S. senators and congressional representatives are systematically selling the lands once set aside decades ago for the public to enjoy. These lands are also being sold off right in front of everyone. Yet when the plan was discovered, except for those in nature lobbying groups of one sort or another, there was no deafening outcry.
The reason for this is that not that many people seem to care about these lands – or nature – all that much.
How Preferences Have Changed
Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-deficit Disorder, a groundbreaking book written by Richard Louv and published in 2005, perhaps explains the root of the current situation quite well. In that book, Louv quotes a young boy who was asked why he no longer wanted to play outside that much. The boy said – with chilling clarity – “I like to play indoors better ’cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are.”
Even more chilling is that the boy’s comments were made even before computer tablets and smartphones have so thoroughly taken over our lives, U.S. children as young as two years demand to play on their parents’ smartphones and those as young as six demand to own one themselves.
According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 77% of adults are online even at night and 93% of all teenagers are in the same situation. A separate survey, from the Kaiser Family Foundation, found that children from ages eight to 18 are on computers, watching television in all of its forms (including streaming services and cable), listening to digital music or “plugged in” to their cellphones an astounding 7.5 hours a day, seven days a week.
Besides the “draw” of electronics, gadgets, social media and the Internet, the other side of this revolves around how people engage with nature versus in the past.
To discover why this is happening, Natural England, the United Kingdom’s “statutory body responsible for looking after England’s variety of wild plants and animals, its biodiversity and natural features,” asked an organization called England Marketing to do a study of how the interest in nature has changed over generations. The results, published in 2009 as “Childhood and Nature: A Survey on Changing Relationships with Nature Across Generations,” produced a number of telling results:
• Less than 10% of children play in natural places such as woodlands, fields and the country versus 40% of adults when they were young.
• The most popular place for children to play is indoors, with 62% of those surveyed making that their top choice. In contrast, the most popular place for adults to play, when they were the same age, was outdoors near home for a total of 42%. Only 16% of adults cited indoors as their favorite place to play.
These preferences have shifted this much in one generation despite, for this UK study anyway, access to nature remaining relatively close at hand. In the same survey, 75% of the adults contacted said they had “a patch of nature” of some form or another when they were kids. Only 64% of today’s children say the same thing.
What this last statistic says is that even though the “access to nature” may have dropped a little, the interest in “accessing that nature” has dropped by a much larger margin.
Part of what is driving this change in preferences is the increased urbanization of the world in general since the 1970s.
According to the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, in 1976 only 37.9% of the world’s population lived in what are considered urban centers. In the United States in particular, even the concept of the U.S. transportation infrastructure of roads was created to support the growing suburban (as opposed to urban) nature of “modern life.” But since that time, things have changed dramatically, with 45.1% of the world living in urban centers as of 1996 and 54.5% in the same regions as of 2016.
We as a species have come a long way since the time of President Theodore Roosevelt, who, during his term of office beginning in 1901, created the United States Forest Service (USFS) and established no fewer than
150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves and four national game preserves. He worked with the U.S. congress to expand Yosemite National Park and founded Crater Lake National Park (in Oregon in 1902); Wind Cave National Park (in South Dakota in 1903); Sullys Hill (in North Dakota in 1904), now managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and Platt National Park (in Oklahoma in 1906), now part of the Chickasaw National Recreation Area. With these actions and others, he protected approximately 230 million acres of public lands from the grasp of American business and property developers.
Roosevelt’s vision was carried forward by many U.S. presidents and congresses since, including Democrats and Republicans alike in all areas. The U.S. National Park Service, founded just over one hundred years ago, in 1916, became a cornerstone for that focus.
Since that time, the United States has established over 600 million acres of public lands. These include the Black Hills National Forest and the Mojave National Preserve. The United States has also established a number of important marine reserves, such as the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument located in the western portion of the Hawaiian archipelago. That national monument was originally set aside by President George W. Bush 10 years ago, with 139,800 square miles allocated for it. President Barack Obama expanded it to 582,578 square miles in 2016, making it the largest marine wildlife preserve in the world.
Today’s Attack on Public Lands
As Americans have lost their interest in nature and the public lands that have been so much of their heritage and places of play, it has become much easier for the U.S. congress to undermine and lay waste to Roosevelt’s legacy.
Based on a report released recently by the Center for Biological Diversity, there is a group of 15 U.S. congressional representatives and senators who are systematically working to release much of the U.S. public lands for private use. These individuals are already well-backed by the fossil-fuel industries via extensive lobbying and campaign contributions. Major funders behind them include Koch Industries (of “Koch brothers” fame, the billionaires who have worked so tirelessly behind the scenes to manage the Republicans in the U.S. congress like puppets), Exxonmobil, Anadarko Petroleum and Peabody Energy.
Their positions on public lands are also well-supported by Trump and his cronies running the State Depart- ment (Rex Wayne Tillerson, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Exxonmobil) and the Environmental Protection Agency (led by Administrator Scott Pruitt, who famously said in a March 9, 2017, interview that he “would not agree that [carbon dioxide] is a primary contributor to the global warming that we see”).the individuals named began with already-existing rules that support the damage these individuals would like to further with their actions. Those rules cover such things as: • hard-rock miners, with more or less unrestricted access to the lands and no need to pay royalties for whatever they extract oil and gas industry companies, which can already drill on nine out of every 10 acres managed by the Bureau of Land Management (That covers some 250 million acres of land, and the royalties they have to pay are insignificant.) oil and gas drillers, with federal permits that do not have to honor the Safe Drinking Water Act, a piece of legislation sometimes referred to as “the Halliburton Loophole” • livestock operators, who are granted low-cost 10-yearold federal grazing permits for the land and a cost of only $1.87 to feed and house one cow and a calf per month (This is well below market rates.) • livestock operators, who get the benefit of federal programs to kill predators (such as wolves) that are fully paid for (and lobbied by) the livestock industrymost livestock permits, which don’t require review by the National Environmental Policy Act The 15 U.S. senators and congressional representatives behind this brazen move to destroy public lands (either through giving access to them or allowing privatization of them) were identified by a thorough study by the Center for Biological Diversity. That study included going through a total of 132 bills brought forward in the last three sessions of congress (between 2011 and 2016) and then naming those individuals who either authored or co-sponsored the most bills.
The list includes nine members of the U.S. House and six senators and covers eight western states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.
That most-wanted list includessen. Mike Lee (R-utah) • Rep. Rob Bishop (R-utah, 1st District) • Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-utah) • Rep. Paul Gosar (R-arizona, 4th District) • Sen. John Barrasso (R-wyoming)
• Rep. Chris Stewart (R-utah, 2nd District) • Rep. Don Young (R-alaska, At Large) • Sen. Jeff Flake (R-arizona) • Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-idaho, 1st District) • Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-utah, 3rd District) • Rep. Mark Amodei (R-nevada, 2nd District) • Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-alaska) • Rep. Steve Pearce (R-new Mexico, 2nd District) • Rep. Tom Mcclintock (R-california, 4th District)
• Sen. Dean Heller (R-nevada) Here are just a few highlights of some of the carefully crafted work carried out by this group: Senator Mike Lee (R-utah): Senator Lee sponsored S.2473, which prohibits the designation of national forests, national parks, national wildlife refuges, national wild and scenic rivers, national trails and wildernesses unless there is state legislative approval. Representative Rob Bishop (R-utah): On “day one” of the 2017 congressional session, Bishop added a provision to the House Rules package making it easier to give away public lands by declaring their value “budget neutral.” What this means is they are considered valueless when it comes to budgetary considerations, so there is no need to offset revenue from them to balance the budget. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-utah): Senator Hatch is pushing through S.1524, which would allow 13 western states to choose which 5% of their lands, including Native American tribal land, they would like to take over for their own purposes. This adds up to 28 million acres of land, and all rights to it would go to the states. Representative Paul Gosar (R-arizona): Two bills stand out especially well in Gosar’s history: H.R. 1904 and H.R. 687. These would have allowed international mining giant Rio Tinto to be virtually given thousands of acres of public lands considered sacred to western Apache tribes. This reverses an executive order by then President Dwight D. Eisenhower 60 years ago. The resulting mining would leave toxic waste behind. These bills did not make it through on their own. But fortunately for Gosar, his colleague, Senator John Mccain, managed to slam them through “under the radar” by including them as a rider on a critical-to-approve defense funding bill in December 2014. Senator John Barrasso (R-wyoming): Senator Barrasso introduced three bills between 2011 and 2016 that would remove protection of millions of acres of forested roadless areas. Representative Chris Stewart (R-utah):
Stewart created H.R. 4579, a law to grant about 6,000 miles of rights-of-way across public land to three counties in Utah. This would even allow road construction through the lands. Representative Don Young (R-alaska): Perhaps Young’s crowning achievement is H.R. 3294, a bill he submitted that gives states management authority over most federal lands. Perhaps not surprisingly, even though managed by the states for exploitation purposes, cleaning up after the mess, including wildlife issues and road maintenance. Senator Jeff Flake (R-arizona): S.1416, a bill Senator Flake submitted in 2015, would prohibit reservation of federal water rights for new national monuments even though those water rights might be essential for the scientific or historical needs of the site. Representative Raúl Labrador (R-idaho):
In a move similar to that cited above for Representative Young, Labrador somewhat notoriously submitted three bills that allow for setting aside as much as four million acres of land for “community forest demonstration areas,” with management of those areas given to the states. Those bills are H.R. 6009, H.R. 1294 and H.R. 2316. Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-utah): In a move that clearly defines which side this Republican stands on, just one month after the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon was occupied by people most would consider armed terrorists, Chaffetz submitted an unusual bill. This piece of legislation, H.R. 4751, would remove any authority of the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service to enforce federal law on lands managed by those agencies. Law enforcement would instead shift to local sheriffs.
Representative Mark Amodei (R-nevada): Amodei is the mastermind behind H.R. 1484, a bill that would require the federal government to give up most publicly owned lands in his state, Nevada, with the state deciding which of the national forests and high deserts it wanted to own. A separate piece of legislation Amodei put up, H.R. 1633, would allow a landowner who happened to own land next to the U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management to request to buy the land next door. It would also require the federal government to work with them to grant those sales. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-alaska): Among Senator Murkowski’s accomplishments are S.3203, which is designed to foster oil and gas development while blocking conservation designations on federal lands in the state, and S. 3204, which would turn over federal land in Alaska, a road running straight through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, and prevent public input of any kind. Representative Steve Pearce (R-new Mexico): Pearce is an interesting mix of radical activist of the anti-environment kind and anti-public lands designation congressman.
In August 2001, Pearce urged people in southwestern New Mexico to go around the law and seize federal lands on their own. Thanks to his rather strange leadership approach for one supposedly sworn to uphold the laws of the land, environmental haters illegally bulldozed more than 13 miles of the San Francisco River in the Gila National Forest.
Pearce was also the original sponsor of H.R. 1512, which eliminates the President’s ability to designate new national monuments in New Mexico by requiring that they go through the U.S. congress for approval. A second bill, H.R. 3478, would eliminate protection for wilderness study areas in New Mexico’s Luna and Hidalgo counties.
Representative Tom Mcclintock (R-california):
One of Mcclintock’s unique bits of legislative subterfuge, H.R. 1526, would use the “cover” of insisting on forest health as why it exists and mandate logging levels. In the process it would increase clear-cutting and shut down much of the public’s ability to challenge damaging and illegal logging efforts.
Senator Dean Heller (R-nevada): Senator Heller is a man bent on blocking much of anything associated with national monuments. Three of his recent bills (S. 472, S. 1554 and S. 232) are all focused on removing the President’s authority to establish any new monuments in the state.
He also introduced S. 232, which would block the Bureau of Land Management from monitoring and protecting Nevada public land with wilderness values.
This is only a short list of the many destructive accomplishments by this group. Trillions encourages its readers to read the full report for more details on other actions by each of them.
What This Means to All
According to a related analysis, the actions of this group and others attempting to pillage and destroy the public lands for short-term profit are turning over the equivalent of one football field’s worth of natural areas every two and a half minutes.
While that is sad enough, sadder still is that Americans as a whole – and many around the world as well – have also abandoned these public lands through their own distractions, love of their energy-consuming gadgets and continued separation from the natural world that made our lives possible in the first place. Unless that, too, is repaired, the U.S. congress will continue to work to steal back the many public lands once set aside for all to own and enjoy together.
This is what corrupt politicians want America's national forests to look like. Photo by thekirbster, CC