Back in 1997, then Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt was required by Congress to "examine their holdings" — basically to rank public lands that the government could sell off to support an Everglades restoration project. The list, which is hosted here on Jason Chaffetz's (R-UT) Congressional Website, offers up a whopping 3.368 million acres in 10 states — specifically Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming. While the exact land for sale is not identified, the counties where the land is held (190 in total) is. Connecting the dots isn't too hard to do to see which areas, and communities, will be affected. And it's clear that some of this so-called "disposal land" is far from worthless — especially for hunters, anglers, hikers, and bikers.
Why does this matter now? With public land sales back on the docket (H.R. 621, introduced by Chaffetz), this 1997 document is a sort of wish list of lands for sale (you can find another version on BLM's site). But even in 1997 this document was far from airtight: "Please note many lands identified appear to have conflicts which may preclude them from being considered for disposal or exchange," wrote then Assistant Secretary Bonnie Cohen. "Conflicts include high disposal costs, critical natural or cultural resources and habitat, mineral claims and leases, and hazardous conditions.” Many of the lands are home to endangered species, like the desert tortoise and Mexican gray wolf. Twenty years later, many of the potential conflicts have become more problematic, thanks to new National Monuments, newly identified species, and, let's not forget, outdoorsmen, who have always made use of the land — our land.
Below are some examples of land that could be on the auction block if Chaffetz's bill is passed. Get your checkbook ready!
The Potential Land: 35,200 acres of BLM-managed land in the Powder River Basin, which is just east of the Bighorn Mountains, popular with hikers, campers, horseback riders, and hunters.
The Potential Land: 27,300 acres surrounding the Shoshone River, a popular fly-fishing stream in northern Wyoming. Most of the BLM-managed land in Park County is downstream of the town of Cody, which sits between the Big Horn, Owl Creek, Bridger, and Absaroka mountain ranges. Tourism is the town’s primary industry.
The Potential Land: 44,000 acres in a county that’s home to Steens Mountain, a 9,733-foot peak that’s popular with campers and hunters, and Malheur National Forest.
State: New Mexico
The Potential Land: 25,000 acres that contain “cultural resources,” meaning it’s probably home to pueblo ruins. The land is most likely a giant tract southwest of the town of Quemado, and some of the land abuts the Gila National Forest, home to the endangered Mexican gray wolf, the Gila trout, and some of the best elk hunting in the U.S.
The Potential Land: 2,105 acres that is home to endangered species and “historic/cultural resources.” The surrounding area contains the Gunnison Gorge, famous for its rafting and fly-fishing trips, and Uncompahgre National Forest, which is home to elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and mountain goat.
The Potential Land: 208,900 acres that contains endangered species, historic resources, and is home to “wetlands/floodplain.” BLM-managed land makes up a giant percentage of land in Elko County, but exactly what land is up for consideration is unclear, or what the effects might be.
The Potential Land: 23,525 acres with mining claims and historic resources. A comment attached to the description notes that the land is “classified as habitat for the Desert Tortoise (a sensitive species).”
Total Acres That Could Be Up For Sale, By State:
New Mexico: 813,531