Montana’s Sen. Walsh targets attempts to sell Western public lands

   Photo: Steve Woodruff

By Steve Woodruff | 6.24.14 
U.S. Sen. John Walsh of Montana is moving to block efforts by congressional conservatives to sell off millions of acres of public land across the West.

Walsh introduced a measure Tuesday that would require a supermajority of senators to agree before taking up legislation disposing of the federal lands. These lands make up much of the West’s best wildlife habitat, watersheds and recreation areas.

The House of Representatives earlier this year adopted a budget resolution proposing to sell off public land to help pay down the national debt. The House proposal is generating widespread concern among hunters, anglers, hikers, outdoor-recreation industry and others as a threat to recreational opportunity, wildlife habitat and economic vitality in the West.

“What this really means is handing over our most popular recreation areas to the highest out-of-state bidder, creating the next copper barons and trophy homes,” Walsh said. “This theory is as radical as it is wrong.”

Walsh’s measure would establish a budget point of order setting a 60-vote threshold for consideration of any legislation in the Senate involving sale of federal land for deficit reduction. His measure would not apply to land sales made part of a program that acquires land of comparable value or with exceptional resources in the same state.

 “Selling off our kids’ and grandkids’ heritage is a terrible idea,” Walsh said. “I want my granddaughter to grow up in a Montana with the same easy access to streams and forests that I enjoyed, whether she wants to hunt, hike, fish, or bike.”

Sens. Mark Udall of Colorado and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico are co-sponsoring the bill.

Montana hunters and anglers expressed support for Walsh’s resolution.

“Montana's public lands offer some of the best hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation in the country, and Montanans are overwhelmingly against any proposal to sell these lands,” said Dave Chadwick, Montana Wildlife Federation executive director. “Our nation didn't get into debt because of our national forests and other public lands. Balancing the budget by liquidating our natural heritage is bad for Montana's quality of life and irresponsible fiscal policy.”