Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Selling Public Lands
There is a tragedy that has been repeated in my family for generations.  I wouldn't get so personal except to draw parallels to a similar tragedy that is being proposed in the most recent House GOP budget, released March 20th of this year. 

When my great-great-grandfather died he left a legacy of acres and acres of gorgeous farmland, (admittedly a subjective opinion, but one held by my father, who has described it for me in vivid detail).  It was sold for what was described as a pittance (even then).  This was done despite my fathers passionate attachment to the property.  He expressed love for the farmland and the lifestyle, and would not have lost it willingly.  An added bit of sadness is that while the fortune of the family was briefly advanced, the benefit was not nearly as sustainable and valuable as the land itself.  Today that land is likely worth better than a million dollars.  Maybe several million.  Today, none of us are millionaires.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  All we have left of my great-great-grandfather's legacy are memories that are steadily fading with the aging and passing of those who knew him and lived there, and a few ancient farming and household items gathering dust in a storage unit. 
This sad event was repeated when my grandmother was too frail to live alone anymore.  A house that held precious memories, and was seen as having more sentimental than fiscal value by the grandchildren she spoiled, was sold in a short-sighted rush to cover the cost of grandma's care and living expenses.  The house, like great grand-dad's farm, was let go for quick cash to a real estate agent.  He then hiked the price up substantially, sold it again within a year, and within five years the house was featured in a major motion picture that made hundreds of millions at the box office.  The potential and intrinsic value was either ignored or not perceived at the time of sale, resulting in a tragedy whose full impact is discovered only in hindsight.  I didn't go to see that movie.
The purpose of my story is less to air out the dirty laundry of my family's financial misadventures, than in response to the House GOP budget of this year.  It proposes to sell off  "3.3 million acres of public lands in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming..."  These lands are described in the budget as "unneeded" by the public, and expensive to maintain.  Whoever made that determination certainly did not consult me, nor did they consult the millions of recreationalists who utilize public lands.  The creators of this budget option justify it by emphasizing the short-term benefits of increased cash flow from the sales, and possible job creation from business interests that might purchase the lands.  They describe potential savings from no longer needing to "maintain" the land.  What it doesn't take into account are the millions, possibly billions, of dollars generated by the fishing, hunting and outdoor recreation industries, and how that is a self-sustaining source of revenue that can be counted on for generations. If the opportunity for the activity is not lost.  That opportunity requires accessible public land, at least for those who are unable to afford to pay private landowners for the privilege of using theirs. 

Such proposals do not make sense fiscally, nor do they protect the public's "interests."  It is difficult to imagine what the motivation behind it might be, but at best, it is short-sighted and misguided.  At worst, it is selling the legacy of the nation to those with power and money, in order to create opportunities for them to acquire more power, and more money.  The rest of us are left with fading memories. 

If you would like to get involved in fighting this threat, please follow this link.

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