Despite End of Oregon Standoff, Public Land Critics Continue to Push

Although the armed seizure of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge has ended with the arrest of the militants in Oregon, critics of the public lands we all own together have not ended their efforts.

The national media has turned to other issues, but the anti-public land effort is still active at the state level and in Congress. While the Oregon occupiers were armed with guns, their allies in some states and Congress are armed with proposed laws, aimed at achieving similar goals:

• In Utah, the Legislature recently gave overwhelming approval to a measure setting aside money for Utah to sue the federal government and ask the U.S. Supreme Court to give the State control of much of the federal lands in Utah. The lawsuit is expected to cost at least $14 million and the legislation both earmarks $4.5 million for the lawsuit, and sets up a fund to collect private money to help pay for it.

• In neighboring Idaho, bills were also recently introduced in the Legislature requiring the federal government to receive approval from the state of Idaho before acquiring any more public land, and also laying out a plan for the state to manage any federal lands it acquires within Idaho's borders.

And the effort isn't limited to western states, either. Recently, in Washington, D.C., a subcommittee of the House Natural Resources committee held hearings on three bills that would dispose of vast stretches of national forests and other public lands across the country.

Last week, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, introduced a bill to strip away the ability of the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service to enforce the law on the millions of acres those agencies manage. The proposed legislation is nothing more than a back-door attempt to cripple the management of the public lands land we all own together.

These ideas are not only wrong-headed; they go against what Americans - including western voters - want. By a margin of 58% to 33%, people who live in the seven states in the Rocky Mountain region oppose turning public lands back to the states.

And it is not just voters in the West who care about our public lands. As the National Park Service celebrates its centennial year, our public lands are more popular than ever. There were more than 307 million visits last year to America's national parks, a 5% increase over 2014, a year which itself had seen a new visitor record.

Aside from what the voters want, supporting public lands is great for local businesses, even in Utah. In fact, the Utah Office of Tourism has just unveiled a $4.6 million television ad campaign to try to draw tourists to the Beehive State's many outdoor attractions.

Given the public support for land protection, the popularity of our parks, and the enormous economic impact of tourism in communities across the nation, our elected leaders should not be looking for ways to get rid of public lands. Instead, they should be considering how they can better protect the land we already have.