Public Land Under Siege: US Wilderness

On the 26th of March 2015, the United States’ senate voted to pass SA 838, a budget amendment that constitutes the first step in allowing the transfer of certain types of federal land into the stewardship of individual states and paving the way for the sale of these lands to private concerns.

The amendment, proposed by Alaskan senator Lisa Murkowski, garnered 51 “yeas” against 49 “nays”. This occurred despite the fact that the amendment enjoys very little support by the constituents represented by such a vote. For what reasons would the US senate vote to remove federal protection on public land in favor of state control and eventual privatization?

The sale or lease of public lands represents a demonstrable economic gain to be made from ostensibly unused land, especially in a state such as Alaska, which happens to be rich in space and resources such as oil and gold.

A cursory glance at the map of federal land in Alaska and the western half of the continental United States reveals huge swaths of land that are protected under current law. Administration of these lands is not without cost and therefore the sale of these lands to private concerns represents an immediate economic boon. This type of rationale, however, reeks of short-sightedness and unsustainability.

Nevada leads the charge here, with a staggering 76 per cent of the state held by the National Forest Service and BLM. If you think that means little in terms of implications for the future use of the sun-burned Mojave, think again. A person only needs to climb one of the immaculate sandstone walls in Red Rock Canyon to catch a glimpse of an open-cut mine dominating the landscape of a nearby hillside.

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