Trump’s Interior Department has opened a 30-day public comment period on whether to cede control of a 10-mile stretch of a road managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to the beehive state. The move, which is widely seen as a slippery slope to further erosion of federal public lands protections and authority, comes nearly three months after Western Values Project (WVP) released a report warning that the Trump administration was intent on selling off America’s public lands.
“The attempt to move control of this federal road to the state is a sly push towards a grander goal: the sell-off of America’s public lands, outdoor heritage, and ultimately, our Western way of life,” said Jayson O’Neill, Western Values Project Deputy Director. “Interior — under the Trump administration and conflict-ridden former oil and gas lobbyist David Bernhardt’s management — is not only failing to protect what actually makes America great but much worse: they are clearly willing to transfer and sell it all off.”
An analysis by the Wilderness Society found that since statehood, Utah has sold off some 54% of its land, or 4.1 million acres of the state’s original 7.5 million acres. Further, a 2014 study by the University of Utah, Utah State University, and Weber State University, in conjunction with the Bureau of Economic and Business Research, found that the whole-scale transfer of federal public lands to the state of Utah could nearly bankrupt the state — costing state coffers approximately $280 million annually.
O’Neill continued, “The only winners in transferring federal public lands to states are the extractive special interests and billionaire land barons poised to pick up the pieces once wildfire liabilities and deferred maintenance costs gouge state taxpayers.”
Under Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, anti-public lands zealots have been appointed to leadership roles throughout the administration. In the previously released report, WVP also detailed the rampant culture of corruption within the Interior and the push from anti-public lands appointees to undermine the agency from within.
In the past three months, Sec. Bernhardt has only continued to amplify his anti-public lands stances, repeatedly making decisions that benefit his former industry and special interest clients. The push to move the BLM headquarters to Grand Junction, Colorado, for example, has produced dangerous conflicts of interest: the largest public lands management agency is now housed in the same building as extractive industry corporations. Additionally, William Pendley, currently the acting Director of the BLM and a known anti-public lands zealot, is moving towards an official White House nomination to continue leading the agency. Meanwhile, the Trump administration is working to roll back protections and begin logging in one of the last remaining intact temperate rainforests in the world.
Beyond these large-scale attempts to dismantle and undermine Interior’s long-standing mission of multi-use management of America’s public lands, the attempt to cede control of this 10-mile dirt road in Utah is clearly in pursuit of the Trump administration’s long-standing goal of relinquishing public lands to states in order to see them sold off.