Amer­ica's Pub­lic Lands are Be­ing Sold-off and Most Don't Care

Trillions - - Contents -

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

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