Washington BHA Letter on Land Transfer Legislation (HB 1103 and 1008)

Update - Since the time this letter was submitted, HB 1008 which set a cap on any new state land, was pulled from committee, thanks to efforts led by Washington BHA and others.

Dear Honorable State Representatives,

We are writing to express our strong opposition and sincere concern regarding legislation you recently sponsored that threatens, undermines and unnecessarily constrains public lands on which Washington’s hunters, anglers and outdoor recreationists depend.

House Bills 1103 (Concerning the transfer of federal land to the state) and 1008 (Concerning the acquisition of land by state natural resources agencies) go against the desires of your constituents in our communities. If passed, these measures would unnecessarily jeopardize both our wild places and public access to Washington’s rich natural heritage.

Put plainly, hunters and anglers rely on both public lands and state lands. Without them, the activities we cherish, local economies, and fish and wildlife would be severely impacted.

HB 1008 would significantly constrain the ability of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Washington Department of Natural Resources and other public agencies to acquire new lands for fish, wildlife and people. We recognize that Washington’s Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program is in need of refinement. However, indefinitely hamstringing these agencies is not an appropriate response.

Our state’s population is growing. Yet even with more than 7 million Washingtonians today we have fewer areas available for outdoor recreation than other Western states. Washington’s current public lands are overcrowded and insufficient. Visit a popular trailhead on a Saturday or a state wildlife area during deer season and see the hundreds of users utilizing these lands.

We call on you to support our state’s outdoor heritage by working closely with county and local officials to ensure that state land acquisitions are conducted in a collaborative and thoughtful manner for the benefit of your constituents, including sportsmen.
HB 1008 would set severe and unnecessary restrictions on growing our state lands endowment, exacerbating problems of overcrowding and degrading future experiences on state lands.

HB 1103 would establish the transfer of public lands act, putting at risk our national forests, parks, wildlife refuges and other American public lands. Backcountry Hunters & Anglers members, as well as dozens of other hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation organization and businesses, strongly oppose the transfer, sale or giveaway of America’s public lands.

Sportsmen and women see the “state control” movement for what it is: a smokescreen for a land grab. States do not have the funding to manage American public lands operated by the federal government. Studies show that the costs of wildfire response alone would overrun state agencies. We do not need further studies or committees; we know that public land transfers would quickly lead to states selling off these lands and waters. “No trespassing” signs would follow. This is unacceptable for our organization, our chapter and our members, as well as for the legacy we leave future generations.

Not only do schemes to transfer or privatize America’s federal public lands endanger our cherished wild places; they also carry no legal weight. Recently, 11 Western states’ attorneys general endorsed a report stating that the agenda of seizing America’s shared forests, parks, refuges and other public lands has virtually no legal merit and is a waste of lawmakers’ critical time and taxpayers’ dollars. The same is true of HB 1103.

Public lands provide significant economic activity for our region, as well. Studies show that rural counties in the West with the most public lands fare better economically than other counties. Those counties saw faster growth in population, employment, personal income and per capita income growth (Headwaters Economics).

Access to state lands and public lands is also a keystone of a multi-billion dollar outdoor economy. The outdoor recreation industry alone generates 6.1 million jobs per year and $646 billion in consumer spending nationwide (Outdoor Industry Association). In Washington state nearly 200,000 jobs are supported directly or indirectly by outdoor recreation – more than our state’s technology or aerospace industries. Recreation and trails programs draw Washingtonians to the outdoors an average of 56 days per year and churn $21.6 billion into our state’s economy annually (Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office).

Public and state lands provide opportunities for people of all means and backgrounds to hunt, fish, ski, camp, watch wildlife and much more. Without this public access, these opportunities would be relegated to private, wealthy interests. We, and you as our elected leaders, have a responsibility to protect that legacy and preserve our public and state lands and outdoor heritage for future generations.

As a chapter representing hundreds of passionate sportsmen and public landowners in Washington state and as representatives of national organization representing hunters, anglers and outdoor enthusiasts nationwide, we stand ready to vocally oppose this legislation.

We respectfully urge you to reconsider these bills and instead support conserving both our public lands and our state lands.

Signed,
Bart George, Co-Chair
Washington State Chapter
Backcountry Hunters & Anglers

Timothy Brass, State Policy Director
Backcountry Hunters & Anglers

Andres Orams, Co-Chair
Washington State Chapter
Backcountry Hunters & Anglers

Chase Gunnell, Conservation Committee
Washington State Chapter
Backcountry Hunters & Anglers

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