Why are folks so angry with Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz? His wildland sell-off bills might be one reason
You may recall Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz as one of several Congress members who were raucously jeered at their own town hall meetings earlier this month.
Chaffetz’ constituents loudly voiced a variety of complaints at his Feb. 9 town hall, but a common theme that emerged was the congressman’s anti-public lands stance. That stance has been made obvious from his wish to upend President Obama’s recent designation of Bears Ears National Monument, to his highly unpopular (now withdrawn) bill to sell off public lands.
As angry as audience members seemed at the town hall, they have even more to stew over in the coming months as Chaffetz pursues yet another stealth attack on Our Wild.
Most recently, Chaffetz has introduced a bill that would severely weaken law enforcement on public lands.
Rep. Chaffetz’s bill (H.R. 622) would completely eliminate law enforcement officers from the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, making it even harder for the chronically underfunded agencies to protect wildlife habitat, prevent poaching, preserve cultural sites, prevent reckless off-road vehicle use and otherwise take care of the nearly 440 million acres of land they collectively manage.
This bill came days after Congressman Chaffetz withdrew a bill (H.R. 621) that would have sold off 3.3 million acres of public lands after enduring a week of withering criticism from Wilderness Society supporters and Americans of all stripes. This legislation is not as brazen, but it, too, is designed to undermine the idea of national public lands that belong to ALL Americans.
We should support our law enforcement officers, whose duty is simply to uphold the law — not undermine them and make it easier for criminals to get away with breaking the rules.
Bill would make land management subject to local whims, endanger staff
Entrusting local authorities with the task of caring for our nation’s parks, forests and other public lands, as the bill mandates, would likely mean more management decisions dictated by parochial concerns rather than sound stewardship designed to safeguard Our Wild for future generations.
Furthermore, an association of federal agents and officers said it “vehemently disagrees” with Chaffetz’s proposal because it will put public and federal workers at risk and embolden anti-public lands interests like the Bundy family, potentially leading to violent incidents like the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge standoff.
This proposal could not come at a worse time. Last week, a survey highlighted that many staffers from national wildlife refuges and other tracts of public lands feel less safe than in the past, with about one in five saying they, their staff or their families have been threatened or harassed over land management disputes. Slashing law enforcement in such places will not help matters.
Growing threats to land agencies and Our Wild
Meanwhile, the Trump regime and its allies in Congress are expected to further cut funding for conservation programs and land agencies, already sitting at less than 1 percent of the federal budget. Enemies of conservation at every level of government are still as determined as ever to seize our public lands and undermine the idea that they should be open to everyone.
The current political regime’s first strike was passing a little-known rule that will make it easier to sell off national public lands on the first day Congress was back in session. That set the stage for Rep. Chaffetz’s first piece of legislation to divvy up acres for seizure or “disposal.” You helped defeat that one, but anti-conservationists still have the machinery of the ‘public land takeover’ movement gassed up and ready to go.
We must strenuously oppose both overt land sell-off proposals and measures like H.R. 622, which attempt to claw public land away from Americans inch by inch.