Bipartisan legislation aims to curb sales of public lands

U.S. Rep. Gabe Vasquez, a New Mexico Democrat, is teaming up with the former secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior and current Republican U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke of Montana to sponsor legislation aimed at preventing the sale of public lands. The Public Lands in Public Hands Act, which they introduced last week, requires […]

Bipartisan legislation aims to curb sales of public lands

U.S. Rep. Gabe Vasquez, a New Mexico Democrat, is teaming up with the former secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior and current Republican U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke of Montana to sponsor legislation aimed at preventing the sale of public lands.

The Public Lands in Public Hands Act, which they introduced last week, requires federal entities to receive congressional approval before they can sell public lands that are accessible to the public or are contiguous with publicly accessible lands or lands owned by state, county or local governments and can be accessed through a public right-of-way, waterway or trail system.

There are some exceptions to the proposed prohibition. For example, small tracts may be exempt.

The federal government owns more than a third of the land in New Mexico and the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of the Interior, which is over the Bureau of Land Management, currently have the authority to transfer or sell public lands.

When the federal agencies choose to sell off public parcels, it can lock people out of recreation opportunities including hunting and hiking.

The BLM and the Forest Service are authorized under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act to identify parcels of public land that meet certain criteria—such as serving important objectives like community expansion or scattered, isolated plots that are difficult to manage—to sell.

According to the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, an estimated 3.3 million acres of public lands have been identified for potential sale.

According to the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, in the past, lands that have been identified for sale were generally considered low priority in terms of public land access or resource value.

But, the CSF states, technological advancements and GPS have changed how people navigate on public lands. That means areas that were once seen as low-priority parcels have now become more valuable for recreational purposes.

According to a press release, the Public Lands in Public Hands Act would increase Congress’ authority to evaluate land sales while also protecting the smaller land transfers that are often done to increase public access.

“Protecting access and opportunity to our nation’s public lands is a promise we can and should make to future generations. That’s why I’m glad to sponsor the bipartisan Public Lands in Public Hands Act with Representative Zinke,” Vasquez said in a press release. “As a hunter and angler, I understand the importance of access to places that we can all enjoy now and in the future. We must never let politics get in the way of one of our greatest legislative accomplishments – protecting land, air, water and wildlife for the benefit of all Americans.”

This article has been corrected to state that 3.3 million acres have been identified for potential sale.

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