After a busy few months trying to impeach Attorney General Eric Holder, increase carbon pollution, and wipe out limits on campaign contributions, Tea Party favorite Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is now working to sell off America’s national forests, parks, and other public lands.
On Tuesday, Cruz filed an amendment to the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2014 (S. 2363) to force the federal government to sell off a significant portion of the country’s most prized lands in the West. The amendment would prohibit the federal government from owning more than 50 percent of any land within one state, and requires the government to transfer the excess land to the states or sell it to the highest bidder.
Federal lands make up one-fifth of the nation’s landmass and over 50 percent of the land Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Oregon and Alaska. Under Cruz’s proposal, these states, which are home to some of the country’s most beloved national parks, forests, wildlife areas and iconic natural resources, would be forced to either pass the costs of managing these lands along to state taxpayers or, more likely, give them away or sell them off for mining, drilling, and logging.
Cruz’s amendment is the latest in a radical effort by right-wing lawmakers to give control of America’s public lands to states or private industry. The movement garnered national attention earlier this year with the help of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who spurred a standoff with federal officials after refusing to pay more than $1 million in grazing fees owed to taxpayers. Bundy notoriously refuses to acknowledge federal authority, telling CNN in April that “I’ll be damned if this is the property of the United States. They have no business here.”
The amendment aligns Cruz with the other 15 incumbent members of Congress who agree with Bundy that America’s public lands should be seized by the states or sold off for drilling, mining, or logging. Highlighted in a new series from the Center for American Progress Action Fund, these “Bundy’s Buddies” support the extremely costly and unconstitutional proposals to seize and sell off America’s public lands, which are also far from mainstream views of Americans in the West.
Although Cruz attached the amendment to a bill intended to benefit sportsmen by expanding hunting, fishing and shooting opportunities on public lands, sportsmen do not support efforts to seize or sell off federal lands. Backcountry Hunters and Anglers (BHA), who have voiced support for the sportsmen’s bill on its own, have condemned land seizure efforts as “a radical cry to wrest our national forests and prairies away from public ownership.”
Steve Kandell, Director of Trout Unlimited’s Sportsmen’s Conservation Project, also made it clear that fishermen and sportsmen don’t support land sell-off proposals when praising the recent introduction of a bill from Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO), also a cosponsor of the Sportsmen’s Act. In a press release, Kandell said that “public lands shape the American identity, support local economies and perpetuate our sporting heritage. They should not be sold.”
Although the Senate voted 82-12 to advance the Sportsmen’s Act on Monday, a dispute over amendments like Cruz’s stalled the bill earlier today, with several of the bill’s Republican cosponsors voting to stop its progress. A frustrated Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who yesterday told Politico that “Republicans have not provided a list of ‘reasonable’ amendments,” today described their position as “bringing to this body a new definition of what it [means] to sponsor legislation.” The bill’s prospects for passage seem to be dimming rapidly.
Claire Moser is the Research and Advocacy Associate with the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress.