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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: This land is our land. Don’t sell it.

There have been few U.S. conservationists as great as Theodore Roosevelt, the Republican president who created the United States Forest Service and once said about the natural wonders and resources of the U.S., “Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.” Yet, modern Republicans seem to have no problem doing just that.

A few weeks ago, almost every Republican in the U.S. Senate — and not a single Democrat — decided to pass Senate Amendment 838, an addition to the 2016 budget. The amendment allows the federal government to transfer control of any federal land “that is not within the boundaries of a National Park, National Preserve or National Monument.” This includes wildlife refuges and national forests.

This seems innocuous enough — until you look at recent efforts regarding federal lands in certain Republican states. In fact, there’s no need to look further than Arizona, where the (largely Republican) Legislature passed two bills requiring federal lands to be returned to Arizona.

To Gov. Doug Ducey’s rare credit, he did veto them last week, though he also established a committee to study whether this is a good idea.

Spoiler alert: It isn’t.

According to the Arizona Capitol Times, the Republicans wanted to use those lands to make money for Arizona, probably to make up for the money Ducey keeps throwing at private prisons that give him and his party donations. Instead, Ducey prefers to gut education and, in Roosevelt’s words, skin the country of its beauty and riches.

How will the land be used to make money? The goal is to turn it over to private companies to be stripped of its resources. Similar older bills in Arizona and Utah were, according to The Associated Press, endorsed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, which is funded by companies like ExxonMobil and the Koch brothers, which stand to benefit from being sold those lands.

The vote on S.A. 838 shows that this is no longer just an issue confined to a few western states or a matter of extremist local politics. Mainstream Republicans voted yes, including Arizona’s own Sen. John McCain, giving in to the greedy interests Roosevelt warned of.

And it’s not like their constituents support these measures. The Colorado College State of the Rockies Project, which conducts a yearly conservation poll, found 70 percent of Arizonans in January opposed selling public lands to reduce the budget deficit. In fact, Arizona voters defeated Proposition 120 in 2012, a ballot measure to give Arizona sovereignty over its national resources, including public lands.

Even if Arizona voters had passed Prop 120, these measures are still unconstitutional. Arizona gave up its claim to federal lands within its borders when it became a state, as defined in its constitution.

This makes the S.A. 838 vote all the more troubling, though, as the federal government would be able to grant those lands back to individual states under the guise of states’ rights.

If S.A. 838 becomes law, the government could just hand over the almost-300 thousand square miles of national forests to states, which can then auction it all off to private companies. And those companies, as a thank you, will probably donate some of the profits to the Republicans.

It’s time for the GOP to look past the excuse of states’ rights and the simplistic notion that government is bad. It should instead stop letting private companies do whatever they want. Public lands are an important part of this country’s heritage, and the Republicans used to understand that. It was them, after all, who created the beautiful system of national parks and forests in the U.S., the system that they are now working hard to destroy.

Perhaps Republican lawmakers should step outside and look at this country’s beauty, riches and romance. If they end up having their way, they’ll be the last generation that gets to do so.

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Ashwin Mehra is a physiology major. Follow him on Twitter.

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