U.S. House Escalates War on Public Lands: BHA is Fighting Back

U.S. House Escalates War on Public Lands: BHA is Fighting Back

Public lands—America’s lands—are the foundation of our nation’s great hunting and angling heritage. No other nation enjoys the array of public parks, rangelands, forests, rivers, and wilderness as the United States … what historian Frederick Turner called the “greatest gift ever bestowed on mankind.” One that was enhanced significantly by perhaps the world’s greatest hunter-conservationist, Theodore Roosevelt.

In the words of Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, in the Billings Gazette (“Republicans must return to their conservation roots,” 12/2/15): “Republican President Teddy Roosevelt was so inspired by the beauty of our nation that he preserved more than 230 million acres of public lands, much of which would become part of our National Forest and National Parks systems.” Unfortunately, today Roosevelt’s legacy is under attack, by his own party.

In July, the Republican National Committee (RNC) approved a national party platform that endorses the disposal of federal public lands. Then, on the first day of the 115th Congress (in January), as promised, House Republicans took aim at the former president’s legacy. As part of a resolution setting the rules for the new session (H.R. 5), members voted to make it easier to transfer federal land to states or local governments.

As explained by the Redding Record Searchlight’s editors (in “Don’t transfer the land, fix the failures,” 1/11/17): “The rules change basically says such land transfers can be viewed as costing the federal government nothing. As it stood before, the House rules would have required a cost accounting and then any such proposal would have to include offsetting cuts elsewhere in government. Sportsmen’s groups … oppose transfers. One of those most vocal is the Backcountry Hunters & Anglers—and Donald Trump, Jr. happens to be a member.”

Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA) president and CEO, Land Tawney, didn’t hesitate letting Congress know how we feel about the move. “Some of our elected officials are wasting no time in paving the way to steal our outdoor heritage,” Tawney said. “If it’s a fight they want, they’ve got one coming.” Then, on January 24, the GOP responded: Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) introduced H.R. 621, Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act, which calls for selling off 3.3 million acres of public lands.

A second bill, H.R. 622, would terminate the law enforcement functions of the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. Rep. Chaffetz was most likely encouraged by fellow Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, where most anti-public lands bills and rhetoric seems to originate these days.

Much like the rest of the country, Minnesota’s U.S. House Representatives voted along party lines on the rules package—Minnesota Democrats Tim Waltz, Betty McCollum, Keith Ellison, and Collin Peterson voted against it, while Republicans Jason Lewis, Erik Paulsen, and Tom Emmer all voted for it. We shouldn’t expect a different outcome on their upcoming H.R. 621/622 votes. Unfortunately, too many politicians have lost sight of the fact that, as Gifford Pinchot (America’s first Chief Forester, appointed by Theodore Roosevelt), said: “It’s a greater thing to be a good citizen than to be a good Republican or a good Democrat.”

They’ve adopted the bad habit of putting extremist party ideology ahead of common sense and the wishes of their constituents: hunters-anglers, Minnesotans, and all Americans. As explained by Diana Rupp, Sports Afield Editor in Chief: “Our entire North American Model of Wildlife Conservation depends on hunters being able to hunt—and they do that, more than anywhere else, on public land.” In fact, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in the West (for example) 72 percent of sportsmen depend on access to public lands for hunting.

Across the U.S., Americans decisively reject the idea of selling off public lands: Polling from after the 2016 election showed that 78 percent of Americans oppose efforts to privatize or sell public lands, including 64 percent of Trump voters. Gladly, as BHA board chairman Ryan Busse explains: “The incoming administration has pledged its unambiguous support of our lands and waters and keeping them public. American sportsmen applaud this firm position. We call for an end to the budgetary chicanery and misinformation … Finally, we call on citizen patriots to defend this most American of ideals.”

As our board chairman knows well, Land Tawney and BHA are ready! Minnesota BHA co-chairman, David Lien (a U.S. Air Force veteran and NRA Life Member) said: “A Storm is brewing. Get ready … become a BHA member! We may not have billions, but we have boots-on-the-ground. Congressmen Jason Chaffetz and Rob Bishop, if you want a war, sportsmen and women will bring it!! 

Tawney says BHA and the outdoors community will fight, and he is already mobilizing the opposition. “Democracy is still ruled by the people who show up so we’re going to rally the masses: hunters, anglers, kayakers, bikers, mountain bikers, campers. And we’ll do that through state rallies at the legislative level all across the West.” And then, he said, they’ll come to Washington in protest. “I have faith in the American people to stand up and fight this idea.”

As Land proclaims, we should not be so fast to dismantle Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy. Interior Secretary Zinke seems to agree, and said in the Billings Gazette: “It’s time for Republicans to return to our conservationist roots.” For additional information see BHA’s report, “Our Public Lands: Not For Sale” (https://backcountryhunters.org/images/Public_Lands_Report.pdf) and Sportsmen’s Access (http://sportsmensaccess.org/).

And don’t forget to contact your U.S. Rep. and Senators … let them know you’re a hunter-angler and you oppose any effort to transfer or sell-off public lands (i.e., H.R. 621 & 622). To find out who represents you in Congress, go to: http://whoismyrepresentative.com/


Voted Yes on H.R. 5:

Rep. Jason Lewis:

-Email: https://jasonlewis.house.gov/contact/

-Phone: (202) 225-2271

Rep. Erik Paulsen:

-Email: https://paulsen.house.gov/contact-me/

-Phone: (202) 225-2871

Rep. Tom Emmer:

-Email: https://emmer.house.gov/contact/email

-Phone: (202) 225-2331


Also email the entire House Natural Resources Committee, which is chaired by anti-public lands zealot Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT): https://naturalresources.house.gov/contact/


For additional information see:

-Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA). “Our Public Lands: Not For Sale” BHA:  November 2014. https://backcountryhunters.org/images/Public_Lands_Report.pdf

-Love the Outdoors and Public Lands? This Is the T-Shirt to Buy Right Now:


-House of Representative Passes Land Provision; Sportsmen Push Back: http://www.ammoland.com/2017/01/house-representatives-passes-public-lands-provision-sportsmen-push-back/#axzz4Utpr09sL

-A public lands op-ed from BHA Board Chairman Ryan Busse: http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2017/01/17/can-western-states-afford-a-federal-land-transfer/the-house-places-no-value-on-an-america-treasure-its-public-lands?smid=fb-share

-“Public Lands At Risk.” Friends of the Eagle Nest Wilderness: Eagle Post 10: 1/1/17. http://www.fenw.org/newsletter_170101.htm

-Sportsmen’s Access: http://sportsmensaccess.org/


-Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF). “RMEF Maintains Stance: No Sale or Transfer of Public Lands.” RMEF: 1/12/17.  http://www.rmef.org/NewsandMedia/PressRoom/NewsReleases/RMEFNoSaleorTransferofPublicLands.aspx

-Chris Wood, Trout Unlimited president and CEO. “It only took one day.” Trout Unlimited Blog: 1/5/17. http://www.tu.org/blog-posts/it-only-took-one-day

-Rich Landers. “Congress takes quick shot at transferring federal public lands to local interests.” Outdoors Blog: 1/4/17.http://www.spokesman.com/blogs/outdoors/2017/jan/04/congress-takes-quick-shot-transferring-federal-public-lands-local-interests/

-“New bill would sell off 3 million acres of public lands.” The Wilderness Society:



Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA) is built on a foundation laid down by hunter-conservationists like Theodore Roosevelt and Aldo Leopold, men who understood that America’s outdoor heritage depends upon healthy habitat, and we take the advice of Roosevelt, who said: “Preserve large tracts of wilderness … for the exercise of the skill of the hunter, whether or not he is a man of means.”


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