Drafters of the national 2016 Republican platform voted this week in Cleveland by a narrow margin to support a sell-off of federal lands and stepped-up logging in national forests.
“The platform is a kind of Theodore Roosevelt- in-reverse document, which renounces even policies of Ronald Reagan,” says Joel Connelly, veteran environ- mental writer for SeattlePI.com.
The GOP platform also would scuttle provisions of the 1908 Antiquities Act used by Roosevelt to protect the Grand Canyon and Olympics. The platform calls for requiring that national monuments be approved by both Congress and state legislatures – virtually tanking any further presidential action.
The full platform must still be adopted by delegates at the Republican National Convention, which begins this week.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, as well as Democrat Hillary Clinton, have both said they do not support selling federal public lands to states, counties or private parties.
Why? Since Congress gave land to Idaho at statehood, state officials have sold two of every five acres to timber companies, cattle ranchers, private fishing clubs and lakeside homeowners on Priest and Payette lakes, according to the Idaho Statesman.
However, perhaps Trump sees the lands as too valuable to “transfer.”
As president, Trump would sell off $16 trillion worth of U.S. government assets in order to fulfill his pledge to eliminate the national debt in eight years, Barry Bennet, Trump campaign senior adviser, told MSNBC.
Under the Reagan Administration, Interior Secretary James Watt was allowed to briefly lead the Sagebrush Rebellion public-lands giveaway campaign with the passion of a preacher. Appointed in 1981, he was debunked and replaced in 1983. Time Magazine listed him as one of the 10 worst cabinet members of all time.
Twenty years ago, before the Bundy’s became icons of public land grab efforts, the U.S. Forest Service Chief penned a gut-level heads up to hunters in a story published in the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s Bugle magazine.
The late Jack Ward Thomas, the first wildlife biologist to rise to the head the Forest Service, helped bring national forest managers to understand the concept of ecosystem management.
In 1996, as he was about to retire from the agency and as chief, he wrote:
“If you love elk, you’re a fan of our national forests, whether you know it or not. Eight out of every 10 wild, free-ranging elk spend all or part of the year on national forests and grasslands. Yet there is a growing movement calling for the Forest Service and other federal agencies to sell off public lands or turn them over to counties.”
“Let me admit a bias,” Thomas said. “I have a long-lasting love affair with the national forests. I was a Texas boy. I hunted and fished and roamed around on private lands, begging access or sneaking in and out.
“When I grew up, moved away and discovered public lands, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven …
“Can we afford to own public lands? The better question is, can we afford not to?
“For more than 100 years, during good economic times and bad, public lands have been the haven for the common man and a firm basis for local and regional economic growth and diversity. Public resources have supported America in peace and in war. Public resources have helped build a nation with inexpensive recreation, wood, energy and water.
“They have been the basis for environmental health, offering clean air and water for generations. They remain so today. The national forests are still operated with Gifford Pinchot’s maxim, ‘the greatest good for the greatest number in the long run,’ in mind …”
At a House committee hearing in 1996, Thomas was asked his opinion about the subject of making public lands private.
The Chief said he answered: “Congressman, first I’ll give my professional opinion and then my personal one. My first answer is no and my second answer is Hell NO!”
Later he wrote, “Speaking for myself, I won’t stand for it for me, I won’t stand for it for my grandchildren and I won’t stand for it for their children yet unborn. This heritage is too precious and too unique to be traded away for potage. These are our lands – all the lands that most of us will ever own …”
Always willing to skewer a sacred cow when he saw fit, Thomas made another point on the subject last winter as he was slowly dying of cancer:
“We prattle about the North American Model of Wildlife Management. Talk about whistling past a graveyard. It’s trendy, but it’s BS.
“It declares that wildlife belongs to the people. But if I control your access to the land where that wildlife is, then it belongs to me. That’s why public lands will become more and more valuable. And the temptation will increase to sell them to the highest bidder.”
Deja vu: The Republican Party’s proposed 2016 platform, which is set to be revealed this week, endorses an amendment sponsored by Alaska delegate Judy Eledge calling for the disposal of federal lands.
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