The need to dispose of excess Federal Property was not unknown to those who have been in a leadership role in our nations capitol. President Harry Truman on January 5, 1949 presented to what was later known as the Do Nothing Congress, his 21 point proposal for a Fair Deal for all Americans. Within his plan the President included a plan to encourage of the disposal of surplus Federal property. Congress did in fact pass, the Federal Property and Administrative Securities Act, by which the Federal Government was to dispose of excess property to non-profit organizations and to tax supported educational and health institutions for educational purposes. It is worthy of note that even at a time when the President faced a conservative Congress, what was passed had altruistic goals.

To borrow a sports phrase, the Conservative Movement, began a full court press, attacking all aspects of Federal management including the management of Federal Lands.  Without even thinking about whether it was true or not, conservatives began in late 1990’s to argue that a state or local authority could manage land better than the Feds. If local authority or state sovereignty were the issue that would be a key point in favor of local control, but the fact is that they do not have the money to manage land that the Federal Government has been managing for years.

In a related matter the citizens of Montana found out the hard way what it meant to have private ownership block access to popular hunting and fishing areas. The west has a tradition of being able to enjoy the great outdoors. Governor Schweitzer of Montana made changes in Montana Law that allowed the public to still enjoy being the sportsmen that they are by making private ownership not be able to block access to their wonderful hunting and fishing areas. The right of the many to enjoy sport triumphed over private property.

The motives of those who would dispose of land that the Federal Government manages has become more apparent in recent years. In an unholy alliance, Senator Ted Cruz and the Koch brothers teamed up in Cruz’s attempt to add an amendment to the Bi-Partisan Sportsman’s Act.( S 2363) The Amendment would have forced the government to sell off a huge portion of Federal land. The amendment would have prohibited the Federal Government from owning more that 50% of the land within any state and would have required the Government to transfer the excess land to the states or sell it to the highest bidder. The states involved in this sell off would have been the states of Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Oregon and Alaska.

When the Koch brothers and a Senator have an agreement to put forth a measure it comes with a cost. The cost is to the public interest and the benefit to the Koch brothers would have been the exploitation of public lands for private gain.

Let’s just take a recent example of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, and look at what it would mean if the local authorities had to take over the management of the refuge. The refuge employs 17 people hired to manage the facility. Burns, is a very small town, that does not have the money to manage the refuge. It might be easy to claim that local authorities should manage wildlife sanctuaries but in point of fact it takes skill and money, especially money to run facilities.

As we move forward in time, Senator Mike Lee and other co-sponsors such as Cruz, proposed in February of 2015, in S 361, the “Disposal of Excess Federal Lands and other Purposes Act of 2015.” The bill directed the Secretary of the Interior to sell certain Federal Lands in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming.

This bill would put up for sale lands suitable for sale in a competitive sale not less than fair value the proceeds of which would be used to reduce the Public Debt.

It is fair to note that the lands suitable are to exclude the following: a.  Lands not identified in the Federal Agricultural Improvement Act of 1996.

b. Lands subject to Recreation and Public Purpose Conveyance application.

c. Identified for State selection.

d. Indian Tribal Allotment.

e. Identified for Local Government use.

An onslaught on our public lands for private use is under way. The test is whether we can look at what is available fairly and objectively, and not look at what resources are most profitably used as a determining factor.

The ownership and usage of our public lands carries with it a large responsibility. Land, Federal Land and its ownership is a public trust that we hold for our children and their children. It is reasonable to note that some of the land can be and should be disposed of but we must use great care in doing so. It is clear that some of our Representatives would by their recent actions sell of land in such large amounts that their motives should be questioned. America should not be for sale to the highest bidder. It is instructive that we have this discussion periodically whereby the reasons for conserving are by necessity refreshed. What would be a great tragedy is if the dollar sign becomes more important than our heritage.





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