Casper, Wyoming--

Agribusiness has paid more than $1.1 million to the PACs of the seven U.S. senators and 10 representatives who are sponsoring legislation to give our national wildlife heritage to the states. This land steal involves 270 million acres of public land that are now administered by the Bureau of Land Management.

The Mafia's boss of bosses would be envious.

Construction industries have given the PACs of these 17 nearly half a million dollars; real estate interests have kicked in more than $130,000.

These donations to the senators are based on a six-year span beginning with January 1989, according to the non-partisan organization Project Vote Smart. Big bucks to the representatives are computed on a two-year basis.

Industries and businesses don't give away money without strings attached. They get a return for their investments -- usually a big return.

It is probably too cynical to call the 104th Congress "the best money can buy." But there is room for suspicion.

Sadly, Wyoming's entire congressional delegation belongs to "The Land Grab 17."

Would it surprise you to learn that Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., is also a sponsor of this federal-land grab? He has no constituents in the West. He has no interests in this issue. Or does he? Jesse's PAC received more than $200,000 from agribusiness in the past six years.

Only the most naive think that former BLM land will remain public domain once state legislators get their hands on it.

Wyoming's statutes, passed in the heat of the 1979--1980 Sagebrush Rebellion, allow for the sale of these lands. Similar legislation was passed in Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah.

Early this year, the Montana Legislature proposed selling all its state lands and BLM land, if the state controlled it. Fortunately, this ill-advised legislation did not pass. But the concept is there.

Oregon, according to a Sept. 13 Associated Press story, plans to sell 600,000 acres of its eastern rangeland. The Oregon Land Board could adopt the massive sale plan by December. The state wants more money for its acreage. The acres under siege include state forests, farmland, rangeland, and waterways.

How fast would Oregon sell off its 15.7 million acres of BLM land? Much of the BLM land in Oregon is located in the southeastern part of the state.

The BLM manages 50 million acres of forested lands. If the states get their hands on this land, look for bald, brown, clear-cut mountains all over the West.

What makes anyone think this wouldn't be the pattern in all the western states?

Former Colorado Gov. Dick Lamm recently complained that his state and Utah are growing in population faster than anywhere in the nation. What do you think Colorado will do with its 8.3 million acres of BLM land? Or Utah with 22.1 million acres?

The states have difficulty managing their own lands. The first excuse states would use to sell BLM land would be the need to increase the number of state employees to properly manage this new acreage. The State Land Office in Nevada, for instance, only has a staff of six people. How are they going to administer an additional 48 million acres of BLM land?

This rationale would be quickly followed by an abundance of reasons to turn these public lands over to private interests.

Western states will lose federal money they now get because of this BLM land grab. Alaska currently receives about $10 million each year of direct financial transfers from the BLM. It would lose that. Colorado would lose approximately $40 million each year; Oregon would lose approximately $100 million per year; Wyoming would kiss off $248 million each year.

These states would have to make up the loss by selling off our nation's heritage in nature.

The bottom line here is money: money for the state, money for influential private interests, money for agricultural interests.

Under the rubric of states' rights and the so-called War on the West, "The Land Grab 17" are hiding the real intent of their proposed legislation.

States' rights is not the issue here; money is. And unfortunately, money speaks louder than the ordinary citizen's interest.

This land grab isn't for the public's benefit. It is crafted to benefit the wealthy. And your congressmen. That's the only multiple use the public will ever see from this theft of public domain.

The landscape will begin to be parcelled out for those who can afford it. The land will be bought and locked up. The best scenic spots will be sold to those who have million dollar bank accounts.

Good-bye public access. Good-bye to the grand unobstructed vistas in the West. Good-bye to the only connection to the land urban dwellers of this nation have. Good-bye to the West many of us love. Farewell to landscapes that still ring with the sanctity of silence.

This legislation, which has been proposed in both houses of Congress, can -- if passed -- wipe out the nation's right to and appreciation of scenic trails, wildlife, recreation trails, wetlands, and vast wilderness areas.

The land that the BLM manages belongs to all Americans -- not the states, and not just the rich.

Those who love hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, boating, or the great scenic vistas of the West must speak out now.

Call your members of Congress and protest against this incredibly selfish attempt to steal the public's land.

"The Land Grab 17" should be chastised for putting the nation's heritage at risk: Senators Craig Thomas, R-Wyo.; Alan Simpson, R-Wyo.; Conrad Burns, R-Mont.; Larry Craig, R-Idaho; Dirk Kempthorne, R-Idaho; Ted Stevens, R-Ala.; and Jesse Helms, R-N.C. And in the U.S. House, Reps. James Hansen, R-Utah; Barbara Vucanovich, R-Nev.; Barbara Cubin, R-Wyo.; Wes Cooley, R-Ore.; Richard Pombo, R-Calif.; John Doolittle, R-Calif.; Wally Herger, R-Calif.; Joe Skeen, R-N.M.; Bob Stump, R-Ariz.; and Wayne Allard, R-Colo.

They deserve our scorn.

Charles Levendosky is editorial-page editor of the Casper Star-Tribune.



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Copyright 1995 The Progressive Populist. -- Revised October 29, 1995 --