Merkley, Wyden Join Senate Democrats Urging Secretary Zinke to Keep Public Lands in Public Hands

Merkley, Wyden Join Senate Democrats Urging Secretary Zinke to Keep Public Lands in Public Hands

Senators ask the Interior Department to prohibit selling or transferring federal public lands

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden today announced that they are joining a group of Senate Democrats to urge Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to keep public lands public by prohibiting widespread sale and transfer of public lands. The senators asked Zinke to uphold the Department of the Interior's responsibility to retain America's public lands so every American can continue to access public lands.  

In response to a growing movement by some states to sell or transfer federal lands to states or give states management authority, a coalition of sportsmen, hunters, anglers, hikers, bikers, paddlers, wildlife watchers, and outdoor businesses submitted a petition requiring the Interior Department to issue clear regulations and guidance that would prohibit the sale or transfer of public lands without congressional authorization. The senators are urging Zinke to honor the rulemaking procedures initiated by the petition and codify the Interior Department's stance on retaining public lands.

"We appreciate your stated opposition to the sale or transfer of federal lands out of federal ownership and we urge you to follow through on your commitment to retain America’s public lands. As Montana’s at-large member in the U.S. House of Representatives and during your nomination hearing you vowed to support public lands and protect every Americans’ right to access those lands. We absolutely agree with you that public lands should remain in public hands," the senators wrote. 

The senators said the attempted land transfers "run afoul of the Constitution and Congress’ plenary authority to regulate and manage federal lands under the Supremacy Clause…. So there is no ambiguity about your position or the limited power the Department of the Interior retains regarding land transfers, we urge you to respond to this petition and draft the proper regulations clarifying DOI’s authorities and process to sell or transfer public lands. We, like you, are committed to retaining ownership of federal lands for the use and enjoyment of all Americans, which will grow our economy and build resilient communities and landscapes into future generations."

The letter is also signed by U.S. Senators Tom Udall, D-N.M., Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., Chris Van Hollen D-Md., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Tina Smith, D-Minn. A summary of the petition can be found here. 

The letter is available below and here.

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Dear Secretary Zinke:

We appreciate your stated opposition to the sale or transfer of federal lands out of federal ownership and we urge you to follow through on your commitment to retain America’s public lands. As Montana’s at-large member in the U.S. House of Representatives and during your nomination hearing you vowed to support public lands and protect every Americans’ right to access those lands. We absolutely agree with you that public lands should remain in public hands.

As you are aware, there has been a growing movement among certain states to have federal lands conveyed to state ownership and control or to have states assume the management activities on federal lands. Supporters of federal land transfers to states are issuing resolutions and introducing legislation in state Houses asserting state and local authority over public lands. These efforts run afoul of the Constitution and Congress’ plenary authority to regulate and manage federal lands under the Supremacy Clause.

In response to these efforts, a coalition of hunters, anglers, hikers, bikers, paddlers, wildlife watchers, and outdoor businesses recently submitted a petition to initiate rulemaking under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) requesting the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) to issue regulations and guidance prohibiting the sale or transfer of public lands unless authorized by Congress or under limited circumstances and clear authorities given under law. 

So there is no ambiguity about your position or the limited power the Department of the Interior retains regarding land transfers, we urge you to respond to this petition and draft the proper regulations clarifying DOI’s authorities and process to sell or transfer public lands. We, like you, are committed to retaining ownership of federal lands for the use and enjoyment of all Americans, which will grow our economy and build resilient communities and landscapes into future generations.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter and we look forward to working with you to codify this important policy.

Sincerely,