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Pine Creek Lake. Photo by Walker Stole
Jun 15 2016

Rep. Zinke Flip-Flops on Public Lands Transfer

Congressman votes for bill allowing 4 million acres of American public lands to be managed by states

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In a recent op-ed, Congressman Ryan Zinke called himself a “Teddy Roosevelt conservationist.” He based that self-characterization on a few votes he made against the transfer and sale of public lands and for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. But his vote today in the House Natural Resources Committee in favor of H.R 2316 (the Self-Sufficient Community Lands Act) is far from Rooseveltian. In fact, it’s a direct attack on the legacy Teddy left us – our National Forest lands.

If passed, H.R. 2316 would strip U.S. Forest Service’s authority over millions of acres of forest lands and hand over management of these lands to state-appointed “advisory committees,” comprised of extractive industry representatives and county officials. These committees would manage millions of acres of National Forest lands – designated by Congress as “community forest demonstration areas” – in any way the committees choose.

This would undoubtedly open up millions of acres of national forest lands – including our favorite places to hike, hunt, fish, and camp – to unfettered resource extraction.

The advisory committees would have complete control in deciding how to manage public lands within the so-called “community forest demonstration areas.” This would undermine bedrock environmental laws, including the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts, and give extractive industry exclusive control of our national forests. This unprecedented approach to transferring and industrializing public lands would lead to the loss of clean water, wildlife habitat, and recreational use of public lands that are owned by all Americans.

If this all sounds familiar, it should.

Two years ago, members of Congress proposed a bill that would lead to sweeping changes for 14 million acres of Montana’s national forests by re-designating them as “forest revenue areas." No matter what name you use, Forest Revenue Area or Community Forest Demonstration Area, the results would be the same: Hundreds of thousands of acres of national forests in Montana managed exclusively by special interests to generate income from resource extraction.

Remarkably, with H.R. 2136, Congress has taken an old bill to industrialize American public lands and turned it into one that would industrialize and transfer American public lands.

The agenda to transfer and industrialize special places in Montana – places such as the East Pioneers, Big Snowies, and Whitefish Range – is gaining momentum in Congress, and it is not at all what Teddy had in mind when he set aside 150 national forests between 1902 and 1909, or when he appointed Gifford Pinchot as the first Chief of the Forest Service.

In 1908, Roosevelt delivered the following quote while addressing our nation’s public land and natural resources:

It is time for us now as a nation to exercise the same reasonable foresight in dealing with our great natural resources that would be shown by any prudent man in conserving and widely using the property which contains the assurance of well-being for himself and his children.

Teddy’s words still resonate nearly 100 years later and those trying to lay claim to his legacy would be wise to heed them.

On public lands policy, Teddy was known as a straight shooter. Unfortunately for Montanans, Rep. Zinke’s aim is suddenly way off target.

Read about the work MWA is doing to keep public lands in public hands.

- John Todd, MWA conservation director