Jason Chaffetz Pulls Bill Aiming to Sell Off Public Lands

Last Tuesday, Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) introduced two bills, H.R. 621 and H.R. 622. The first had the explicit aim to sell Federal lands; the second, to "terminate the law enforcement functions of the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management." Today, after ongoing public outcry — including rallies in state houses across the West — Chaffetz announced, by way of an Instagram post (see above), that he is walking back on the first bill.

"I am withdrawing HR 621," Chaffetz writes. "I'm a proud gun owner, hunter, and love our public lands. The bill would have disposed of small parcels of lands Pres. Clinton identified as serving no public purpose but groups I support and care about fear it sends the wrong message."

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These lands were indeed identified under President Bill Clinton. Back in 1997, then Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt was required by Congress to "examine their holdings" of lands that they could sell to pay for protection of the Everglades. But the "small parcels," critics contend, is misleading, considering the document from 1997 points to some 3.368 million acres in 10 states — specifically Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming. 

Absent is mention of H.R. 622, a bill Chaffetz also re-introduced last week that is aimed to "terminate the law enforcement functions of the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management and to provide block grants to States for the enforcement of Federal law on Federal land under the jurisdiction of these agencies, and for other purposes."

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H.R. 622 was less controversial than the public lands bill, but it could have a much larger impact in terms of how Forest Service and BLM lands are managed. Advocacy groups like Wilderness Workshop note that the bill would reduce the ability of already-budget-constrained federal agencies to manage public lands, turning over law enforcement duties to local sheriffs’ offices, who may not have the time or inclination to protect them in the same manner. Furthermore, critics argue it would be easier for organizations to violate the protections for public lands.

Here's more on H.R. 622, from Chaffetz' website: The Local Enforcement for Local Lands Act, first introduced last year, removes the law enforcement function from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service. Instead, the bill calls for deputizing local law enforcement, combined with block grant funding, to empower existing duly elected law enforcement offices to carry out these responsibilities. The bill, jointly sponsored by Utah’s Rep. Mia Love and Rep. Chris Stewart, also establishes a formula to reimburse local law enforcement based on the percentage of public land in each state. The resulting cost savings will reduce the BLM budget by five percent and the Forest Service by seven percent.

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