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The transfer of public lands from federal to state management has been unnecessarily confusing and controversial to some, not because it’s a complicated issue, but because fans of federal control have purposefully mislead people about the details of public lands transfer proposals and their implications.

Myth #1: Public lands will be sold off to the highest bidder.

Fact: Federal public lands will become state public lands to be managed in accordance with plans formulated by individual states and localities. (Click here for more information)

Myth #2: National Parks and Tribal Lands will be subject to being sold for commercial development.

Fact: Tribal Lands, National Parks and Monuments, and Wilderness Areas will remain under federal jurisdiction and are excluded from public lands to be transferred. (Click here for more information)

Myth #3: States in the West can’t afford to manage their own public lands.

perc_study_dataFact: States which own and control public lands within their boundaries actually create wealth, whereas states under federal control lose revenue. Revenue from state trust lands are used to fund public education and other programs designed to benefit citizens. States under majority federal control struggle to fund public schools and are often required to make up for federal shortfalls, despite the fact the federal government takes the revenues from public lands in such states. (Read more here)

Myth #4: Sportsmen, hunters, anglers and outdoor recreation enthusiasts will lose access to public lands.

Fact: Public lands will remain public, and access will be improved under state management. Federal agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service have become increasingly aggressive with road and trail closures, as well as banning activities such as camping and rock climbing in certain areas. States and localities will be more sensitive to the economic and environmental benefits of improved access and well-tended public lands. The federal government, due to distance and bureaucratic complexities, is naturally less responsive to the needs of the people and the environment than local and state governments.

Myth #5: Transferring public lands to the states is unprecedented and frightening.

Fact: The Constitution of the United States directs the federal government to “dispose of,” or return public lands to the states as a means of paying off federal debt and, in earlier centuries, to encourage settlement of lands in the West. As the country made its westward expansion it became necessary for the federal government to acquire and control lands until territories and states became sufficiently organized and independent to manage themselves without federal help. Transfers of federal lands to “frontier” states occurred in the 1800’s, and continued through the early 20th Century. The Constitutional prerogative of the federal government has not changed, and states in the West deserve the same benefits and opportunities enjoyed by those east of the Continental Divide. (Learn more here)

It’s unfortunate that misinformation about transfer of public lands efforts in the West is being spread by individuals and groups who purport to be sportsmen, hunters, anglers, and environmentalists. Some of those perpetuating myths are Green Decoys, or front groups for left-leaning special interests which benefit from strict federal control. Others are simply unaware of the extent to which the federal government controls Western lands, or how critically important it is to the environment and the economy for Western states to regain control over their lands.

The failures of federal management in the West are increasingly apparent as politically-driven policies have manifested themselves in cataclysmic wildfires, restricted access, and troubling confrontations with local governments and citizens. The transfer of public lands to Western states to be managed and protected is a simple, legal, and environmentally beneficial answer to the problems caused by absentee landlords in Washington D.C. We encourage local and state officials throughout the country to boldly tell the truth about the transfer of public lands, and to support efforts by Western states to free the lands from the failures of federal control.


This article was originally published by the American Lands Council and is available here. The American Lands Council is a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization of individuals, counties, business, and organizations that was founded by County Commissioners in 2012. Learn more about the organization here.