Ground Truth: Dispatch

Whither Public Lands Under Pres. Trump?

November 14, 2016 — During the long, bruising presidential campaign, relatively little was said about the management of public lands. In the days since the election, conservationists have expressed widespread dismay and fear that a Donald Trump administration will prove a disaster for the environment.

One key unknown is what stance Trump will assume regarding the question of whether federal lands should be transferred to state governments.

Trump will take office with both chambers of Congress controlled by a Republican party that has adopted an official policy in support of transferring federally owned land to the states.

At its convention last summer, Republicans approved a platform that says “Congress shall immediately pass universal legislation providing a timely and orderly mechanism requiring the federal government to convey certain federally controlled public lands to states.”

In March, the U.S. Senate passed an amendment in support of transferring control of federal lands to states. The measure passed 51-49, with all Democrats voting against it and all but three Republicans voting for it.

On the campaign trail, Trump gave hints that he opposes the notion of transferring federal lands. In a June interview with Field and Stream Magazine in Las Vegas, he spoke in opposition to the proposal.

“I don’t like the idea because I want to keep the lands great, and you don’t know what the state is going to do,” Trump said. “I mean, are they going to sell if they get into a little bit of trouble?”

In September, Donald Trump Jr., an avid hunter, expressed his support for keeping public lands under federal control during an interview with a Colorado TV station.

“(W)e want to make sure that that land, public land, stays public,” said Trump Jr., who played an active role in the campaign. “That’s one of the places that we’ve really broken away from conservative dogma.”

As has been widely noted, however, Trump’s statements on all sorts of issues have been wildly inconsistent, often reflecting the views of the last person who has happened to catch his ear.

In August, according to High Country News, Trump had a 10-minute face-to-face meeting with Elko County, Nev., Commissioner Demar Dahl, a leader in the campaign for state control of public lands. “He said, ‘I’m with you,’” Dahl said, summarizing Trump’s response to Dahl’s pleas to transfer federal lands.

Even if national forests and other public lands remain under federal control, many anticipate a push in the next four years to give wide latitude to local interests in deciding how to manage those lands and the resources they contain.

Given the demographics and political preferences of many communities in the rural West, that would likely mean intense pressure for more logging and mining on lands managed by the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.