In a controversial new TV ad aiming to sway conservative caucus-goers in Nevada but likely to backfire with mainstream voters, Presidential hopeful Ted Cruz (R-TX) vows to sell-off or give away the state’s national parks, national forests, national monuments, and other public lands.
“If you trust me with your vote,” says Cruz in the ad, “I will fight day and night to return full control of Nevada’s lands to its rightful owners, its citizens.”
The Cruz ad, which is launching less than a week before the Republican caucuses in Nevada, echoes the views propagated by anti-government militant Cliven Bundy, who believes that Western states should seize control of all national public lands within their borders. Cliven Bundy and his sons Ryan and Ammon were indicted this week by a federal grand jury in Las Vegas for leading armed standoffs against the federal government in 2014 in Nevada and earlier this year at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.
The Cruz ad begins by criticizing the fact that approximately 85 percent of land in Nevada is publicly owned by U.S. taxpayers. These lands include the Lake Mead National Recreation Area on the Colorado River, Great Basin National Park, the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, and Basin and Range National Monument.
Cruz’s comments in the ad, which echo legislation he introduced in 2014, do not specify whether he would dispose of national public lands in Nevada by directly auctioning them off to mining, energy, timber and other private interests or by first transferring them to the control of the state government. If they were transferred to state control, the state government would likely have to sell off a large portion to raise the money needed to pay the costs of fighting wildfires and managing the remaining lands.
Cruz is not the only candidate in the Republican field who has vowed to divest the U.S. of its national parks and public lands. The Associated Press reports that Ohio Governor John Kasich launched a radio ad Thursday that also endorses the transfer of national public lands to the state of Nevada.
With Kasich’s ad, which appears to be his campaign’s first public comments on the issue, four of the six remaining Republican candidates for president are on the record supporting the transfer of ownership of American public lands and energy resources to state or private control. The exceptions are Donald Trump, who has expressed outright opposition to the idea, and Jeb Bush, who has a record of backing privatization in Florida state parks but has stopped short of endorsing an outright divestiture of national land and energy resources.
Recent public opinion research commissioned by Colorado College found that proposals to seize or sell public lands are deeply unpopular among most Westerners, with approximately 6 in 10 voters in the region — including a majority in Nevada — opposed to the idea.
The Cruz television ad, however, seems aimed at both swaying far-right Nevada voters who support the anti-government views of Cliven Bundy and at drawing a contrast with Donald Trump. The ad cites and criticizes comments that Donald Trump made in an interview with the publication Field & Stream in January in which Trump slammed proposals to transfer national public lands to state control.
“I don’t like the idea because I want to keep the lands great, and you don’t know what the state is going to do,” Trump told Field & Stream. “I mean, are they going to sell if they get into a little bit of trouble? And I don’t think it’s something that should be sold.”
Cruz’s attack ad may backfire with sportsmen and conservative voters in the West who recreate on and use public lands. Sportsmen argue that the seizure, transfer, or sale of national public lands will result in the loss of open access to wildlife habitat for hunting and fishing.
“I can’t help but think that if Theodore Roosevelt could see the current scam being peddled to American sportsmen he’d be fighting mad,” wrote Field & Stream editorial director Anthony Licata last year. “Simply put, state treasuries cannot afford to manage these lands … These game-rich areas that currently belong to all of us will be developed or sold to large corporations, degrading critical habitat and locking out millions of sportsmen.”
In addition to the loss of national parks, national forests, and access to other public lands, Cruz’s proposal would also likely deal a severe blow to Nevada’s economy. Outdoor recreation in Nevada, which relies almost exclusively on access to national public lands, contributes an estimated $14.9 billion in consumer spending every year and supports 148,000 jobs in the state.
Agricultural production in the state also benefits from deeply discounted grazing fees for ranchers who graze on national public lands — they pay approximately one-tenth the price of what it costs to graze cattle on private lands in the state.
Matt Lee-Ashley is a Senior Fellow and the Director of the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress. You can follow him on Twitter @MLeeAshley.