GOP off-base on public lands, Salazar argues
Former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar Thursday said conservationist, public lands advocate and Republican Theodore Roosevelt wouldn’t be happy with his party’s support for turning over such lands to states.
Salazar, a Colorado Democrat, was referring to a Republican National Committee resolution adopted this year that calls for turning over public lands to western states that want them.
“That would cause Teddy Roosevelt to turn over in his grave, if he knew what the RNC position was with respect to public lands,” Salazar said in a teleconference hosted by the National Wildlife Federation.
That group’s 49 state affiliates have passed their own resolutions calling for keeping public lands in public hands and opposing large-scale land exchanges, sales or giveaways.
A media representative for the RNC could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Salazar and representatives with the National Wildlife Federation and its affiliates fear that movements within states could lead to federal land being transferred to states or sold to private parties. A law passed in Utah in 2012 provides a framework for transferring such lands to the state, with exceptions including tribal lands, Department of Defense areas, specific congressionally designated wilderness areas, national parks, and national monuments other than Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. President Clinton angered some in Utah when he designated that national monument by using the Antiquities Act.
Salazar said Thursday another concern he has is that efforts might be made to roll back conservation tools such as that act.
He and others who spoke Thursday called public lands the birthright of all Americans, for all to visit and enjoy. But they cited the economic benefits associated with general tourism, hunting and fishing, and other uses of these lands. Salazar pointed to this year’s Interior Department report showing that just the lands it manages generated $360 billion in benefits in the 2013 fiscal year and supported more than 2 million jobs.
According to the website of the state of Utah’s Public Lands Policy Coordination Office, economics also are a factor behind the law passed there in 2012.
“Today, approximately two-thirds of Utah’s energy resources are located on federally owned lands. Conflicting and cumbersome federal rules, regulations, processes, and management policies often prevent development of these resources resulting in diminished revenue to the State and its citizens. (Use of the law) would increase Utah’s ability to access and responsibly develop its energy resources,” the office says.
Peter Metcalf, chief executive officer and president of outdoor gear-maker Black Diamond, Inc., based in Salt Lake City, said when he first heard of the Utah measure, his colleagues dismissed such an idea as just right-wing ideology that they couldn’t imagine would gain traction. Now it’s a political plank of the RNC.
“Clearly it’s gaining some momentum,” he said.
Salazar believes incidents such as the recent standoff between Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management point to the strengthening movement to try to claim federal lands.
“It’s a concern and something that has to be taken seriously from my point of view,” he said.