In this Jan. 27, 2016, file photo, rancher Cliven Bundy stands along the road near his ranch in Bunkerville, Nev.
The Republican platform committee met this week to draft the document that defines the party’s official principles and policies. Along with provisions on pornography and LGBT “conversion therapy” is an amendment calling for the indiscriminate and immediate disposal of national public lands.
The inclusion of this provision in the Republican Party’s platform reflects the growing influence of and ideological alliance between several anti-park members of the GOP and anti-government extremists, led by Cliven Bundy, who dispute the federal government’s authority over national public lands.
“Congress shall immediately pass universal legislation providing a timely and orderly mechanism requiring the federal government to convey certain federally controlled public lands to the states,” reads the adopted language. “We call upon all national and state leaders and representatives to exert their utmost power and influence to urge the transfer of those lands identified.”
The provision calls for an immediate full-scale disposal of “certain” public lands, without defining which lands it would apply to, leaving national parks, wilderness areas, wildlife refuges, and national forests apparently up for grabs and vulnerable to development, privatization, or transfer to state ownership.
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"That’s a very broad brush to basically say we’re going to turn over all federal lands to states; some states don’t have the resources to handle it," said West Virginia state Senator and committee delegate Vic Sprouse, who was pushing for a similar provision, but with milder language. He said this more extreme language would instead "willy-nilly" turn over federal property without regard to the type of land or willingness of the state to manage it.
Though public land disposal language was also present in the GOP’s 2012 platform, the position takes on new meaning in the wake of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge takeover earlier this year. The now-indicted leaders of the takeover, Ammon and Ryan Bundy, and other extremists present at the refuge similarly demanded that the U.S. government give up authority over national public lands in the West.
"I have long believed that public lands are an equalizer in America, where access to public lands ensures that you don’t need to be a millionaire to enjoy the great outdoors or to introduce your children to hunting, fishing and hiking,” said Senator Martin Heinrich during a recent floor speech on ALEC-funded land seizure legislation. “This land grab idea is just as ludicrous as denying climate change, just as detached from reality, and similarly comes at the expense of our public health and protection of our public lands and resources."
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Disposal of national parks, wilderness, forests, and other public lands is not the only way the GOP platform addresses conservation issues. Delegates also approved an amendment aimed at curbing the Antiquities Act of 1906, a law which has protected national monuments ranging from the Statue of Liberty to the Grand Canyon. The amendment requires “the approval of the state where the national monument is designated or a national park is proposed,” which would severely limit the President’s ability to protect at-risk places.
The delegates also passed language specifying that the Republican Party believes that the sage grouse, prairie chicken, and the gray wolf should be exempt from the protections of the Endangered Species Act. This not only gets into the weeds of local issues, but cuts corners in scientific species and conservation management regulations.
Party delegates will vote to adopt the draft document at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland next week.
Jenny Rowland is the Research and Advocacy Associate for the Public Lands Project at Center for American Progress. Follow her on Twitter @jennyhrowland.