U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah said late Wednesday in a Facebook post he is withdrawing a bill that would have directed the Secretary of the Interior to sell 694,200 acres of public lands in Wyoming.
Chaffetz introduced the bill last week and it was headed to a House committee, according to the bill-tracking website Congress.gov. The language of the bill hadn’t even been posted publicly before Chaffetz pulled it back, saying the measure “sends the wrong message.”
“I am withdrawing HR 621,” the GOP congressman said in his post. “I’m a proud gun owner, hunter and love our public lands.
“…[Groups I support and care about fear it sends the wrong message,” the post said. “I hear you and HR 621 dies tomorrow.”
Withdrawal brought a wave of approval on social media and from conservation, environmental and hunting groups.
“American sportsmen and women know definitively that public lands are the backbone of our sporting traditions,” a manager with the National Wildlife Federation said in a statement.
“That[’s] why sportsmen from across the land flooded Congressman Chaffetz’s office with calls and emails over the last week demanding that he not pursue HR 621,” wrote Aaron Kindle, the groups western sportsmen’s campaign manager. “We appreciate that Mr. Chaffetz listened and withdrew his support for the bill.”
Land Tawney, president of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers agreed. “Representative Chaffetz should never have introduced this ill-conceived bill,” Tawney said in a statement, “but the instant and overwhelming response by sportsmen and women forced him to listen and ultimately abandon H.R. 621.”
Chaffetz wrote that the bill would have “disposed of small parcels of lands Pres. Clinton identified as serving no public purpose.” Chaffetz’s bill was based on a 20-year-old Clinton-era study that identified the acreage referenced in the bill’s title. But the 1997 study didn’t recommend selling the property, nor did it say the land had no public purpose.
Instead, the 1997 study sought to identify federal lands with “potential for disposal or exchange,” not outright sale.
“…[M]any lands identified appear to have conflicts which may preclude them from being considered,” the 1997 study says. “Conflicts include high disposal costs, critical natural or cultural resources and habitat, mineral claims and leases and hazardous conditions.”
The acreage listed in Wyoming amounted to 4 percent of Bureau of Land Management holdings in the state. Nationwide, the bill called for the sale of more than 3 million acres.
“This loss would have forever robbed the American people of the amazing bounty these and all public lands provide,” Kindle said. “We hope this decision signals that Rep. Chaffetz and his congressional colleagues are starting to understand how important these lands are to Americans and that they’ll cease their efforts to seize them from the public trust.”