A lawmaker from Utah has introduced legislation that would “dispose” of 3.3 million acres of public land nationwide, including 70,300 acres in Oregon.
In what some have called the opening shot by Republicans to sell or transfer federal lands, U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz introduced H.R. 621 last week to free up resources “for economic development in struggling rural communities.”
Environmental groups denounced the effort, saying Chaffetz is pushing an “anti-American public lands agenda” with the broader goal of privatizing natural treasures across the West, a statement from Oregon Wild said.
The land identified for disposal — meaning sale to private entities or states — includes acreage from 10 different states. The bulk comes from Nevada (898,000 acres), New Mexico (831,000), Wyoming (694,000) and Arizona (450,000 acres).
In Oregon, the 70,300 acres comes in parcels from 19 counties managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The parcels range from 44,533 acres in Harney County to 1 acre in Marion County.
“I think this bill is basically a ‘test balloon,’ to get the effort and conversation moving,” said Jim Moore, professor and director of the Tom McCall Center for Policy Innovation at Pacific University. “The land referenced here is pretty scattershot and may or may not make sense. I’d watch for a more focused effort if we’re really talking about this happening.”
It's not clear whether President Trump's administration would support the bill. Trump has made statements opposing the sale of public lands and nominated Montana lawmaker Ryan Zinke, who also opposes the idea, to lead the Department of Interior.
"That's kind of the fly in the ointment of this whole idea," Moore said.
The identified land comes from a 1997 survey conducted by the Clinton administration, which was seeking potential revenue to benefit the Everglades Restoration effort. The survey never resulted in the land being sold.
There’s no map showing the exact location of each parcel, only a short description of the land’s character, monetary value and possible problems with disposal.
In the entry for 1,475 acres in Deschutes County, for example, it’s noted that “recreation is a major support of Deschutes County’s economic base, consequently, the county is opposed to any loss of federal lands.”
The 2,120 acres in Jefferson County, meanwhile, is identified as having mining claims, endangered species, wetlands and floodplains, along with historic and cultural resources.
The largest area proposed for disposal is in Harney County, where 44,500 acres is described as agricultural and grazing land with some public access.
"These lands have been deemed to serve no purpose for taxpayers," Chaffetz said.
Oregon senator Ron Wyden disagreed.
“Legislation based on a decades-old report on lands supposedly ripe for disposal clearly belongs on the shelf,” Wyden said in a statement. “Public lands belong to all Americans, and preserving these lands in public ownership keeps them accessible to everybody – including hunters, fishers, timber enterprises and recreation lovers.”
All land currently overseen by Bureau of Land Management
Harney — 44,533 acres
Klamath — 7,506
Lake — 4,140
Giliam — 3,200
Jefferson — 2,120
Lincoln — 1,932
Wasco — 1,880
Deschutes — 1,475
Josephine — 810
Sherman — 800
Crook — 640
Tillamook — 402
Linn — 399
Hood River — 240
Jackson — 174
Clatsop — 40
Lane County — 9
Yamhill — 7
Marion — 1
Zach Urness has been an outdoors writer, photographer and videographer in Oregon for eight years. He is the author of the book “Hiking Southern Oregon” and can be reached at zurness@StatesmanJournal.com or (503) 399-6801. Find him on Twitter at @ZachsORoutdoors.