Tell Your Members of Congress to Oppose Public Land Sell-Off

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Bush Budget Puts Our Public Lands on Blue-Light Special Peddling Americans' birthright aims to raise $1 billion for U.S. Treasury

As much as 800,000 acres of Americans' public land would be sold into private hands under one egregious provision of President Bush's proposed budget. Astonishingly, less than two months ago, bipartisan opposition in the Congress defeated a similar scheme. This absurd proposal deserves the same reaction from all of us. Please send that message to your Members of Congress! You can take action immediately by clicking here.

Eliminating America's Public Lands

Though many details of President Bush's 2007 budget are still murky, some, regrettably, are painfully clear. Amid serious cuts to public lands programs (already grossly under-funded) there now comes a blatant proposal to begin selling off our public lands themselves.

It's not a new idea. The anti-environmental right has long cherished a fevered pipedream of selling off America's public estate. The President's budget proposal is a dangerous escalation of the crusade that now shows signs of becoming a trend.

Like A Broken Record

Just two months ago, Rep. Richard Pombo included in a budget reconciliation bill a provision to sell off millions of acres of land to mining interests and developers. The measure passed the House. But unified opposition from western conservationists, hunters, anglers, local elected officials, businesses, governors and Democratic and Republican Senators alike forced its removal.

Similar coalitions have blocked other such extreme proposals, including one in which Pombo actually identified units of the National Park System to sell.

Over 800,000 Acres Could Be Lost to the Public

In all, over 300,000 acres within our National Forests could be sold in 32 states. California would suffer most with 85,000 acres on the block, but this isn't just a threat to western public lands. In the southeast, where public lands are rare, 55,000 acres could be sold.

The Administration has already identified the forest lands it will sell. It has given the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) a sales quota, marching orders more appropriate to door-to-door salesmen than to professional land managers. That agency will identify sales tracts as it completes its land use plans. But to meet the Administration's sales quota, the agency might need to sell as many as half a million additional acres.

Important Lands in Valued Places

Administration spokespeople are struggling to depict these land sales as small, isolated, of no particular public value or consequence. Nonsense. One is a 160-acre parcel in the Big Creek drainage of Emigrant, MT, in a popular recreation area adjacent to an upscale guest ranch. Another includes over 700 acres of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area in Oregon and Washington. A third comprises 1,300 acres along a remote and rugged river gorge with rare low-elevation old-growth forest in Washington.

Why? There is no good reason but there is a formal excuse: to raise money to help fund rural roads and schools. No one doubts the federal obligation to help local governments pay for such things, but the help should come, as it currently does, from the general treasury, as a broad public responsibility, not from casually peddling America's icons. Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO) sees the plan as a destructive way to pay for what he considers reckless tax cuts. "It's like selling your homestead to pay your credit cards," he said.

Voicing his concern, Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) said, "public lands are an asset that need to be managed and conserved." And Rep. George Miller (D-CA) said, "The suggestion that the only way to fund rural schools is to sell off our national forests is just ludicrous in a nation this wealthy."

You Can Help! Contact Your Members of Congress Today

It is critical that our congressional representatives know very early on that we are opposed to selling our public lands. Budget sense should rest on leadership and political courage, not on slapdash schemes to sell the public estate. Please act today! You can send your comments to your Members of Congress immediately by clicking here.

But if you can find time to write your own comments, that would be the most helpful. We have included a sample letter from which you can draw the major points.

Click here to look up contact information for your Senators and Representative:

For More Information Click here to see how much Forest Service land in your state is potentially on the auction block.

Sample Letter

Dear Representative/Senator:

President Bush's proposed budget for FY2007 includes a monumentally wrongheaded scheme to raise money by selling off what could amount to 800,000 acres of America's treasured public lands. I am strongly opposed to any such sale and urge you to ensure that it joins other recent land privatization schemes on the legislative trash heap.

Our public lands are an American birthright, something that makes our homeland unique. Those lands deserve protection, defense and thoughtful stewardship. They are not commodities to be used in a shortsighted, craven scramble for a few dollars, simply because we lack the political courage to appropriate outright what we need to meet our obligations. Our public lands are treasures that we should rightly hand on to our children and to our grandchildren.

Late last year, Rep. Richard Pombo proposed, and the House approved in the budget reconciliation bill, an outlandish scheme to sell millions of acres out of public ownership and into the hands of mining companies and other developers. The resultant outcry from anglers, hunters and other conservationists, from western governmental leaders, from ranchers and business people, was such that the provision was scrapped before the budget resolution was approved.

The President's land disposal scheme is equally objectionable and warrants the same end. I believe it is crucial for Members of Congress to publicly declare their opposition to this harebrained idea and to do so immediately.

Our public lands deserve more than to be treated as a budgetary slush fund. As a voter and a lover of our public lands, I count on you to defend them.

(Your name and address)

The Wilderness Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to conserving American wilderness. Our mission is to ensure that future generations will enjoy the clean air and water, wildlife, beauty, and opportunity for recreation and renewal provided by pristine forests, rivers, deserts, and mountains.


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