Can We Think About this Privatization of Federal Land Idea?

Sawtooth National Recreation Area, July 16, 2016

Sawtooth National Recreation Area, July 16, 2016

Americans, and international visitors, love federal lands. Idahoans pack the federal parks, national forests, national recreation areas and other federal lands all summer. Everything from dirt bike racing in the Owyhee Mountains to rafting Wild and Scenic Rivers to backpacking Forest Service trails to filling up all the campgrounds in the state on weekends. Hunting is practically a religion in the two states WC has called home: Alaska and Idaho. Hunting is permitted on almost all federal lands. Private lands? In your dreams.

Except for it being tough to find camping spots on summer weekends, federal land ownership is not broken. But there’s a bunch of ALEC-loving Republicans who are determined to “fix” it anyway. They need to be stopped.

ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council, a Koch Brothers-funded – among other far right funders – organization, that writes legislation that seeks to put the United States back in the 19th Century. The legislation is written in secret, and then passed out to state legislators and Congress for enactment. The idea of privatizing federal lands is just one of ALEC’s schemes, and not even the worst. But you can read ALEC’s “model” state law. State law enactments aren’t going to privatize federal lands. But enough racket might make the current Congress and Administration think they can get away with it.

The thing that ALEC and its fellow travelers consistently ignore is that there are solemn compacts between each of the western states and the federal government, made when those state were granted statehood. Each those compacts provide that the newly minted state abandons any claim to ownership of any federal lands in their borders not granted to them in the compact or not granted to them previously. Alaska, for example, approved by public referendum the Alaska Statehood Act. That’s an agreement between the United States and the citizens of Alaska. The Statehood Act, which was ratified and approved by a solid majority of Alaskans, states at Section 4, in part:

As a compact with the United States, said State [Alaska] and its people do hereby declare that they forever disclaim all right and title to any lands or other property not granted or confirm to the State of its political subdivisions by or under the authority of this Act. . .

And then it’s repeated in Section 5:

Except as provided in section 6, hereof, the United States shall retain all title to all property, real and personal, to which it has title, including public lands.

The Idaho Statehood Bill granted the new state of Idaho lands for schools and a university, but then provided, at section 12:

The state of Idaho shall not be entitled to any further or other grants of land for any purpose except as expressly provided in this act.

No ambiguity there. ALEC and those who support its reactionary goals want to re-negotiate the deal. WC has certainly entered into some contracts he’d like to revisit. WC is certain each of his readers have as well. But the wish, the desire, is not the reality. A deal is a deal.

American Kestrel defending his territory, Wilson Creek Road, Idaho

American Kestrel defending his territory, Wilson Creek Road, Idaho

So we have much-loved, much used federal lands, which is put into private hands would almost certainly lock out those public uses. We have decades-old laws and statehood compacts that have long since settled the issue.

You want to easily tell federal lands from private lands? Look for “No Trespassing” signs, or the orange paint on fence posts and rocks that passes for a sign in Idaho. Those “signs” tell you all you need to know about this idiot idea.

Just say “No” to privatization of federal lands.