Last week, the Senate passed massive public lands legislation that contains a lot of good, but a lot of bad too.

In light of the national emergency for the wall being declared, the Green New Deal, and Democrats running for President, this land deal got little to no news coverage.

Here’s the breakdown:

The good:

  1. The legislation opens ALL federal lands to hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting unless it is specifically stated the lands are off limits to such activities.
  2. Bow hunters would be allowed to bring their bows through national parks when traveling to areas where it is allowed to hunt. Imagine being allowed to hunt on certain land, but not allowed to carry your weapon through any of the land to get there! There’s a government efficiency joke in there somewhere…
  3. A federal program that uses offshore drilling revenue to fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund will be permanently authorized. If this is signed into law, when green groups push to limit energy development in the future, those efforts will now be directly tied to hurting funds for conservation as well.
  4. The “Every Kid Outdoors Act” will be codified into law, which allows fourth-graders and their families to access all national parks for free.
  5. Several new national monuments will be designated, including the home of civil rights activists Medgar and Myrlie Evers in Mississippi.

The bad:

  1. An additional 1.3 million acres will be given “wilderness” designation – the most stringent land protection the United States government has. This means ZERO human interaction with the land. No roads, no travel, no hiking. The federal government already owns over 47% of the land in western states.
  2. In Utah alone this bill package creates 661,000 acres of additional wilderness. Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) had this to say about the legislation: “Citizens must go to the federal government, hat in hand, to ask permission for any use of the land at all — whether to dig a well, build a road, bury a cable or do virtually anything on it. So designating more than half a million acres of wilderness — most of which is in Emery County — is a big blow.”
  3. 620 miles of rivers in 7 states will become off-limits from building dams or any other type of development. Instead of giving local landowners and residents an opportunity to voice their opinion with local government, this deal creates a precedent of “hands-off, don’t touch!” top-down restriction from the federal government.

The package also covers additional subjects, such as expanding existing national parks and reauthorizing the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act through 2022.

Additionally, it permanently prohibits mineral exploration and withdrawal from lands surrounding Yellowstone National Park and North Cascades National Park. This provision was strongly endorsed by the entire congressional delegation from Montana, two Republicans and one Democrat.

Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT), co-sponsored the proposal. “This legislation is the culmination of years of collaboration and cooperation between Utah county commissioners and local conservation groups, ranchers, recreationists and others,” Romney said. “As a result, it includes important provisions that were crafted and driven at the local level instead of by Washington bureaucrats.”

It seems to be a tale of two Utah Senators when it comes to this public land deal. What remains to be seen is whether President Trump will sign the legislation when it reaches his desk.

On one shoulder will be Mike Lee, urging the President to uphold the rights of private landowners and veto the package. On the other shoulder will be Mitt Romney, touting bipartisan compromise and the benefits to national monuments and hunters, urging the President to sign it.

As has come to be the case with most of President Trump’s decisions – there’s no certainty in predicting what he’ll do.


  • Adam Houser

    Adam Houser coordinates student leaders as National Director of CFACT's collegians program and writes on issues of climate and energy.