Update 2nd February 2017
The Bill’s sponsor, Jason Chaffetz, has just announced on his Instagram feed that he will be withdrawing the Bill. It seems the hunting lobby is strong and has persuaded him to withdraw it. If there’s a lesson here for mountain bikers, it’s surely that they need to get organised and start influencing. Because there are bound to be further threats to land access – how about all that untapped fossil fuel and shale gas that the new energy policy seeks to access: ‘We must take advantage of the estimated $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves, especially those on federal lands that the American people own’? Both in the UK and US, mountain bikers have traditionally not had a single ‘voice’. Are we waking up to the fact that we need one?
Amidst all the other Bills and Executive Orders passing through the US legislative arena at the moment, there’s a Bill ‘H.R.621’ which should probably set a few alarm bells ringing among the mountain biking community. The Bill’s summary states that it is:
‘To direct the Secretary of the Interior to sell certain Federal lands in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming, previously identified as suitable for disposal, and for other purposes.’
The full text of the Bill is not yet available, however press release from Jason Chaffetz, the Republican representative from Utah, states:
“It’s time to get rid of the BLM and US Forest Service police. If there is a problem your local sheriff is the first and best line of defense. By restoring local control in law enforcement, we enable federal agencies and county sheriffs to each focus on their respective core missions.
“The long overdue disposal of excess federal lands will free up resources for the federal government while providing much-needed opportunities for economic development in struggling rural communities.”
The press release states that there are 3.3 million acres of land which were identified by the Clinton administration as being suitable for sale to non-federal entities.
But what is BLM land and why does this matter?
BLM stands for Bureau of Land Management. This is federal land (owned by the central US government), that is neither National Park or Wilderness (in which mountain biking opportunities are generally very limited), and Forest Service land (to which access laws very between states). BLM land is generally all that stuff in between, and an awful lot of what is considered great mountain biking territory, is in it.
What’s wrong with changing its status?
While Chaffetz says in his press release he believes that local sheriffs are best placed to tackle any issues on local land, he also cites the freeing up of federal resources. So if this ‘worthless’ land needs resources to manage it, where are States going to find the funding to do that? Call us overly suspicious, but that next bit of his press release where he says the land could provide ‘much needed opportunities for economic development in struggling rural communities’ sounds to us like the land is not going to stay undeveloped. Once the land is within the control of the States, they will feel the pressure to fund looking after it – and that funding could well come from the sale of land to developers or perhaps mining interests.
Of course, the outdoor industry and associated tourism can also be a valuable source of income – but whether it can compete with the cash injections that big industry might offer will remain to be seen. Should the legislation come to pass, will enlightened States look to capitalise on their natural assets through widening trail access and encouraging tourism, or will they court big business? Fans of US trails, watch out for this Bill’s progress, and prepare to get lobbying.