Congress has just passed and the President signed a 1,300-page omnibus bill containing 160 separate proposals affecting public land. Like most omnibus legislation, it's a mix of good and bad. The bill included new wilderness designations for 2 million acres. That's a good thing--although there is concern about some of the special provisions that allow inappropriate uses in Wilderness.
The omnibus also included 26 stand-alone land exchange or land conveyance bills--plus 11 land exchanges that were folded into wilderness legislation.
We generally oppose land trades and sales that go through Congress rather than the land agencies. But we are encouraged, so far, by the actions of the Democratic Members who now control the House and Senate public lands committees. In assembling the omnibus bill, they yanked out many of the most egregious proposals the Republicans had been floating.
Senate Energy & Natural Resources Chair Jeff Bingaman (D-NM)
has spoken out against public land disposal and is making big changes in the committee's priorities and policies.
We see these actions as harbingers of much-needed change in Congress' public land policies. We may finally be seeing the end of the quid pro quo bills that "balanced" wilderness designation in one area with giveaways of public land elsewhere, and which have facilitated the privatization and development of literally hundreds of thousands of acres of public land.
We'll be pushing Members of Congress to keep moving in the right direction--and ultimately to cease the exchange, sale, or giveaway of public land. Land trades and sales should proceed, if at all, through the land agencies, where laws and regulations provide a more transparent, accountable, and citizen-accessible process.
Perhaps even more important, we'll continue to encourage wilderness activists to abandon the quid pro quo approach they adopted in the past several years and fight for wilderness protection that does not sacrifice other public land to get "buy-in" from wilderness opponents. Rep. Rahall himself has stated,"There is nothing to be ashamed about with wilderness."
Might these leaders be ready to lead?
Thank you for your interest in public land--it clearly makes a difference!