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4 Recent Developments In The Public Land Heist

By Cailin O’Brien-Feeney, OIA’s Local Recreation Advocacy Manager


At last August’s Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, a standing-room-only crowd of outdoorists passionately discussed the state of the public lands heist. Since then, Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) and our friends at Outdoor Alliance have been applying pressure to stop the heist through action alerts, op–eds, and at various state capitols. We jointly created to track and rally support, but the battle continues. We’ve identified four major developments in the battle so far in 2016:

  1. A number of presidential candidates have endorsed selling off public lands. On both sides of the aisle, candidates have rejected land transfer proposals, but others have been vocal that public lands should be transferred or sold.
  2. The standoff at a wildlife refuge near Malheur, Oregon, brought public attention to the extremist fringe of the movement gunning for an end to public ownership of American lands.
  3. Land takeover bills continue to pour in at the state level. Last year, Western states considered more than 35 bills proposing to transfer or sell off public lands. In 2016, there are 16 bills in state legislatures, and they are making less progress. Wyoming recently voted down two of the worst land takeover bills we’ve seen.
  4. The U.S. House is considering bills that would dispose of National Forests to states for the express purpose of logging. Another bill aims to strip the law enforcement authority of park rangers.

The architects behind the public land heist are getting smarter, and the new bills in state legislatures often arrive in disguise—like bills that propose spending millions of dollars to “study” land transfers or that are packaged with other initiatives, such as wildfire funding. Using the guise of states‘ rights rhetoric, these special interests are advancing what is, baldly, a land grab that would take what belongs to all Americans and put it in the hands of a few. While demanding transfer of national public lands is clearly unconstitutional, developments like those above point to the public lands heist as just the tip of the spear as part of a broader anti–public lands agenda.


The idea that we should sell off public lands for profit is a threat to the landscapes we love and explore, which is a foundational part of the American identity. Our nation’s craggy peaks, golden plains, and rivers belong to all of us, whether we are New Yorkers or Montanans, whether we visit these places every year or hope that our children will someday see them. Permanently protected public lands distinguish America from the rest of the world and support a vibrant outdoor recreation economy and millions of jobs our industry provides.


If you love the outdoors like we do, you treasure your right to access the parks, forests, rivers, plains, and wilds of this country, especially in the West. Right now, outdoor enthusiasts face a very real threat that the places we go to climb, paddle, hike, camp, bike, and ski will be lost for good. An aggressive campaign to transfer public lands to Western state governments puts millions of acres of national forests, rangelands, wildlife refuges, wilderness, and historic sites at risk of being privatized and sold off.


Outdoor businesses have a unique voice and a direct stake in this issue. Speak out now to defend your public lands



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