Member of Congress Justin Amash Republican Michigan at Town Hall

Liberty versus Public Lands

Member of Congress Justin Amash Republican Michigan at Town Hall

Today the US Senate just passed House House Joint Resolution 44 against public lands (click here). Stellar for libertarianism. Bad for a free country.

The US House of Representatives passed Resolution 44 as one of many disapproving Obama-era policies. This resolution disapproves an Interior Department rule for the BLM known as “Planning Rule 2.0.” It requires more transparency and inclusion of public input. It seems as though the House and the Senate oppose transparency and public input on public lands. It’s on its way to Trump, who is expected to sign it.

I’m in Michigan, where my representative, Justin Amash (R-MI3) is a bastion of transparency and public input. I’ve gotta hand it to him. He’s faced full-capacity town halls for three weeks while the GOP runs the other way (click here). And other conservative members of congress have been in hiding. Speaking to the “Freedom Caucus” about attendees, Amash said, “Their concerns are reasonable…. I think it’s important to learn from people who come to your town halls” (click here). He’s got cajones.

So why would Amash support Resolution 44 against transparency and public input on public lands (click here)? Why?

Don’t blame him. He’s libertarian. They oppose any rule that diminishes property owners and legitimizes public lands. Private property is a cornerstone of the US political system. The Declaration of Independence says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” (click as a reminder). That last bit actually means “the pursuit of private property.” It makes us happy.

So libertarians want to take from the feds and give to the states, who will doubtless give to local property owners (click here).

The front line of this battle over Resolution 44 was Wyoming. That’s whose representative, Liz Cheney (R-WY0), introduced it. And whose governor, Matt Mead, defended it. “BLM’s decisions must be made based [on] the local communities most affected by these decisions and not remote and unconnected public opinion” (click here). Sounds good. I mean, this view is central to our political turmoil, right? “Coastal liberals” versus “flyover states.” A yuppie in Brooklyn has the same influence as a rural rancher over public land next to next to his own. Yuppie wants decisions to based on science with deference to global wellbeing. Rancher wants decisions based on common sense with deference to his local experience.

Cheney, Mead, and Amash’ are not against transparency and public input. They’re against all stakeholders having equal weight, regardless of locale. …or industry.

Aha. So who are these Snidely Whiplashes trying to seize American freedom? It’s those bastard outdoorsmen, hunters, and anglers (here’s the report). Maybe they’ve been getting a free ride on the coattails of democracy.

Not so much. In Wyoming alone, outdoor pursuits create $4.5 billion in consumer spending, $300 million in state/local tax revenue, and 50,400 jobs (here’s the data). Hunting and fishing alone generate $1 billion a year in Wyoming (read the report). But while the Trump promises jobs and prosperity, congress seems ambivalent to this $646 billion industry (here’s the story). Despite the fact that 71% of local Wyoming residents are outdoorsmen. And furthermore, 53% don’t want public lands given to states (check the survey).

To be sure, I espouse personal liberty and advocate for rural communities. I’ve lived the nightmare of land management that excludes local people.

But Resolution 44 is not about liberty. It’s about favoring some stakeholders over others. It sides with extraction industries like mining, gas, and beef over outdoorsmen. It sets a precedent that sportsmen and recreational users are “remote and unconnected” from public land. Listen, I love myself a cow… girl. Cowgirl! But ranchers, miners, and loggers are not the only “local communities most affected.” Those who hunt, fish, and walk the land have stake in it as well.

Don’t kid yourself. There is no liberty without public lands. Americans hold a stake in our country as well as in their private property. Our national identity and quality of life depend upon some spaces held in common. Like Yellowstone and Devils Tower. The defining characteristics of such lands are more valuable when owned by all of us instead of any one of us. Because you’re an American, you hold a stake in these lands. But Members of Congress don’t want your input. They want to sell it to peak industry.

In the end, what kind of liberty is it, if we all own our half-acre wood while our country is sold to the highest bidder?

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