Utah's public lands are once again under fire. Pexels.com photo.
A little over a week ago, Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah stood before a crowd at Utah’s conservative think tank The Sutherland Institute to propose three bills about public lands – public lands, he says, that should be open to development and managed by states.
The first is a bill that opposes the Antiquities Act of 1906, which allows the President to protect landmarks, structures, and objects of historic interest by designating them as National Monuments. Lee’s proposed legislation, The Protecting Utah’s Rural Communities Act, would require Congress and a state legislature to approve these presidential designations. In other words, a president couldn’t protect land as a National Monument on their own; they would need permission from two separate governing bodies, ones that likely have very different interests at heart.
The second bill is one that Lee is calling the “New” Homestead Act. The original Homestead Act of 1866 allowed 270 million acres of federal lands to be privatized. Lee’s new act aims to do the same. “How many schools, hospitals, medical research centers, innovation hubs, and affordable homes could we build even on just a fraction of this land?” Lee asked the audience.
The third bill continues off the second with one simple goal: to transfer federal lands to the states. “Our ultimate task is to restore the Founders’ vision of localism and self-government,” Lee continued.
While these bills are a ways off, they could have a real impact on outdoor recreation and ongoing conservation efforts. Even though Mike Lee didn’t get a Supreme Court nomination – he was shortlisted, but it went to District of Columbia appellate judge Brett Kavanaugh – this legislation still marks an alarming trend in our current government’s rolling back of protections on public lands. If this all seems vastly familiar with what happened a few months ago with Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, it’s because it is. Huge percentages of the land these National Monuments used to protect are now fair game to those hoping to take advantage of the resources, and if Lee’s intended legislation is any indication, it looks like this will continue with more of the West's public lands.
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