Latest Threats to Public Lands Are Subtle But Dangerous

Last year, we sounded the alarm as bills began to pop up to dispose of public lands or transfer them to states where they could be opened to inappropriate levels of development and high-impact extraction.

We rallied to block these bills, and together our community sent a clear message to Congress that we won’t stand for transferring or selling off large tracts of our public lands and their irreplaceable climbing opportunities. As a result, we saw many of these bills dropped or never introduced, including Congressman Chaffetz’s (R-UT) bill that proposed to sell off over three million acres of public land in the western United States and Congressman Amodei’s (R-NV) bill that sought to unload over seven million acres of public land to the Nevada state government. Both were dropped after public outcry from recreation and conservation communities made it clear that the majority of Americans do not want to transfer or sell off public lands.

These victories were a direct result of our grassroots advocacy efforts, and we should all be proud of that.

But here’s the thing: The threat to our public lands looms greater than ever, but it’s much more covert than the blatant disposal attempts we saw earlier this year. Congress and the President are currently pushing a less obvious, more complex assault, not only on the integrity of our public lands, but on the very system that manages and protects them.

Right now, we’re seeing the legislative and executive branches of our government propose initiatives that:

  • Undermine the authority of the Antiquities Act, threatening the legitimacy of all national monuments, their climbing areas, and our collective American heritage.
  • Strip land management agencies of the critical authorities, like landscape-scale planning, law enforcement, stream protection, road management, and mineral leasing, that allow our public lands and their climbing areas to be managed in a balanced manner that respects all stakeholders, not just commercial interests.
  • Cut funding to land management agencies, preventing them from managing recreation and mitigating impacts to our public lands, while increasing the budget for oil, gas, and coal development.

The common theme of these attacks is clear: Remove authority and resources from the public lands system to pave the way for unmitigated energy development and commercial interests. We are certainly not against energy independence and a balanced budget, but these goals can be accomplished while protecting public lands and including the American public in the decision making process.

Instead, these attacks will disable the public land agencies’ ability to balance all stakeholder interests and uses of public lands, ultimately limiting the American people’s voice on how public lands are managed.

Already, Congress has repealed a crucial BLM planning rule, limiting the public’s ability to be involved in BLM land management planning at places like Red Rocks, Shelf Road, and other popular BLM climbing areas. This was a huge blow to the recreation community, and it will result in measurable damages to climbing environments and access—although the extent is yet to be seen.

This attack on our public lands is death by a thousand cuts. The perpetrators are shifting from overt land transfers and sell-offs to covert rollbacks, repeals, and budget cuts. They are counting on the fact that we aren’t paying attention and that the details are too complicated for us to see the bigger picture. But we see the big picture. These threats are more subtle and dispersed, but they add up to the systematic dismantling of America’s public lands system—home to about 60% of our climbing areas—and they must be stopped.

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