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Bundyism in Action

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What would happen if the dreams of Cliven Bundy and his clan came true and the federal government sold off all its public lands in the West to the highest bidder? We can have a pretty good idea of this because western states have already done this with their own state lands. If we look at Idaho for an example, the lesson is that selling off the public lands is a terrible idea.

Recently, as a start at getting at the truth, The Wilderness Society conducted an analysis of how Idaho treats the lands it already manages. What the nonprofit organization found makes it hard to believe that Idaho politicians wouldn’t move quickly to sell off and close access to our public lands. Of the lands granted to Idaho when it became a state, Idaho has sold off 1.7 million acres –– just over 40 percent –– of the original amount. The primary buyers have been mining and timber companies. Other state lands sold off have since been developed into strip malls, country clubs and private fishing clubs.

Still, state legislators act perplexed when some residents say they fear what would happen if federally managed public lands were given to states like Idaho. In a hearing this spring, Rep. Linden Bateman, R-Idaho Falls, tried to explain why the distrust exists: ” Most of the feedback I get is in opposition. … They (the public) don’t trust the people they elect; they’re more inclined to trust federal bureaucrats.”

James Holt, a Nez Perce tribal member and former chairman of the Tribal Fish and Wildlife Commission, warned, “Once these public lands end up in the hands of corporations and private individuals, the freedom to use and enjoy them is almost impossible to get back.”

Here’s more recent troubling news: Between 2000 and 2009, Idaho sold 98,000 acres of its state-managed land. Why, then, would anyone expect state officials to do anything different if they gained control of federal lands? According to Idaho sportsmen like Jerry Bullock, who is a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association as well as a Safari Club International member, “The loss of access for sportsmen in Idaho would be staggering if the state were to get its hands on our Forest Service and BLM lands.”

Idaho isn’t the only state with a strong history of liquidating its land. New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Oregon and Wyoming all share a history of selling off their lands. In total, Western states have disposed of over 31 million acres of land, an area roughly equivalent to the state of Louisiana.

At most, the western states get a one-time payoff that will be quickly spent. And then? Mining and timber companies, golf courses, huge corporate farms. If the western lands are sold, it won’t be smaller ranchers like Cliven Bundy that benefit. It will be the Mormon Church, which has huge cattle operations and a tremendous amount of cash on hand. Privatizing the public lands helps almost no one. Keeping them public means all of us can enjoy or use them, even if we don’t always agree on how to manage them. It’s a clear and obvious call, but the next time Republicans control Congress and the White House, expect to see a lot of our national heritage liquidated.

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