Sen. Ted Cruz offered an amendment to the pending Sportsman Act that would prohibit the federal government from owning more than 50 percent of the land in any particular state. According to the Economic Policy Journal, the federal government owns more than 50 percent of land in Nevada, Alaska, Utah, Oregon, and Idaho. This proposal has set off something of a firestorm among supporters of land conservation.
A typical reaction to the Cruz proposal was contained in a Thursday article in the left leaning Think Progress. It suggested that the proposal would either force state tax payers to shoulder the burden of managing the lands that presumably the federal government would transfer to the states or else turn over pristine wilderness to corporate interests to ruthlessly exploit for their natural resources, such as oil, timber, and minerals. The article suggested that sportsmen, hunters and fishermen, would oppose the Cruz measure.
The Cruz proposal has reignited a decades old debate over how to deal with federal lands. On the one hand there is the position that lands owned by the federal government should have little if any economic activity allowed on them. The idea is that they should be kept in their pristine, natural state, suitable only for campers and sportsmen to enjoy.
The opposing position is that it is possible to conduct oil drilling, mining, and logging on federal lands in an environmentally benign manner with a small foot print. Also some federal land is hardly ascetically appealing territory that would be marred by resource exploitation. The trackless tundra in ANWR, in northern Alaska, is an example. Some western states consider it unfair that so much of their land is locked away by the federal government. States would be better able to manage land within their boundaries, allow for economic activity, and, most importantly, collect royalties that would help fatten their budgets/
The side opposing the ceding of federal lands to the states or private entities raise the specter of evil corporations strip mining national parks such as Yellowstone and Yosemite. They accuse Cruz, himself a hunter, and others of being against natural beauty. It are these accusations of bad faith that has thus far prevented reform of federal land management.