Former Interior Secretary Slams GOP Effort To Seize And Sell America’s Public Lands

CREDIT: AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

Little Missouri River winds it's way inside the Theodore Roosevelt National Park located in the Badlands of North Dakota.

Former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar called out the Republican National Committee (RNC), the national organization of the Republican Party, on Thursday for endorsing efforts in some Western states to seize or sell-off of America’s parks, forests, and public lands.

Salazar said the Republican Party’s endorsement of public land seizures and sell-offs would “cause Teddy Roosevelt to turn over in his grave.”

Salazar joined sportsmen and business leaders on a media call hosted by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). Speakers on the call criticized the RNC for passing a resolution in January endorsing proposals for Western states to seize federal lands.

“The nation’s public lands are the birthright and priceless heritage of all Americans …They do not belong to any one state,” Salazar said. He argued that President Roosevelt and his successors fought against the notion that our public lands are for private exploitation, but “that’s exactly what the RNC resolution proposes.”

Forty-one of NWF’s state affiliates sent a letter to the RNC this week requesting that they retract the January resolution. The letter urges the RNC to “stay true to the [Republican] party’s deep conservation roots and rescind this resolution to ensure the continued protection of public lands that provide so much benefit to our communities and for all Americans.”

Collin O’Mara, CEO and President of NWF, emphasized that America’s public lands are “absolutely essential,” adding that the “consequences of these types of proposals, if enacted, would be devastating for local communities.”

The RNC resolution echoes the calls by a fringe group of conservative lawmakers seeking to give control of public lands to the states or sell them off to private industry for drilling, mining and logging. These extreme views garnered national attention earlier this year during Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy’s dangerous standoff with federal officials. Bundy notoriously has refused to recognize the authority of the federal government, including over public lands.

Lawmakers and candidates who share Bundy’s views on seizure or sale of public lands are featured in “Bundy’s Buddies,” a recent series from the Center for American Progress Action Fund. The series has profiled 15 incumbent members of Congress, candidates for office and other local and state officials who endorse these unconstitutional proposals that would impose extreme costs on states.

According to E&E Publishing, it is “unlikely the RNC would rescind the resolution,” even though public opinion research by the Colorado College State of the Rockies Project shows that a majority of Western voters, including Republicans, are more likely to support candidates who favor protection of public lands.

Claire Moser is the Research and Advocacy Associate with the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress. You can follow her on Twitter at @Claire_Moser.