I just launched a new project at the Guardian, This Land is Your Land, which takes a look at the underreported threats to public land in the US. The Republican platform now contains a commitment to give away an unspecified portion of America's 640m acres of national land to the states. We've also seen this year several bills from a small number of politicians that would sell off millions of acres of public land and gut the management and law enforcement budgets for parks and public property.

It's an issue that's totally consumed me, but it's also a subject that a lot of the country hasn't heard much about. Public land designations can be confusing, and the bills to transfer and roll back protections on federal land haven't been widely publicized. But public lands belong to all of us, and the government has an obligation to manage them responsibly and hold them in trust for all Americans.

So let's do it. AMA.

Proof! https://twitter.com/GuardianUS/status/873285239833071617

EDIT: I have to bounce out for a meeting a little before 2pm ET, but if there are other pressing public land questions, I'll circle back later today. Thanks very much, Reddit! It's been a blast.

EDIT: Wow, people care! Excellent. I'll try to answer as many questions as I can before I have to duck out again at 4:15pm

EDIT: I have to jump out for about an hour—why is there life outside of Reddit?—but I'm so amped by the enthusiasm for this topic. I'll come back shortly and try to finish this out by answering as many questions as I can today. These conversations are really helpful to me, too, so thanks, everyone, for your time.

EDIT: Hey, thanks for continuing all the really great questions here! I'm back until 5:30, at which point I have to go home and feed the pooches.

EDIT: It's now 6:07, and I really do have to go home. But I had such a great time with you all today. Thank you for the fantastic discussion. It's been a privilege. If you want to reach out in future, you can find me @catyenders

Comments: 597 • Responses: 38  • Date: 

janeetcetc309 karma

Are public land giveaways determined by Congress or are their things that state/local governments can do to chip away at these protections?

Caty_Enders261 karma

Hey! Thanks for the question. It depends on how public land is designated in the first place. If the land is national (e.g. National Forests, National Parks, BLM land), it’s under federal/Congressional purview. State and local governments can and do lobby Congress, however, for changes in the protections for land within their borders. For example, Utah state government has pushed pretty hard for the reversal of Bears Ears National Monument. We also just published a story on county governments advocating for the removal of National Monument protections so that uranium mining can be expanded around the Grand Canyon. There’s also a lot of public land under state control, of course, though our series is largely looking at national public land. State land is more vulnerable to being sold off, as we saw with Elliott State Forest in Oregon this spring. About 70% of national public land transferred to the states in the form of land grants has been sold off and privatized. But chipping away at public land protections doesn’t seem hugely popular in Western constituencies. When legislation/resolutions come up at the state level to support land transfer, they generally get hammered down by local opposition. Does that answer your question?

UnfilteredAmerica83 karma

It's appalling every time Elliot state forest is brought up and used as an example of some sort of wrongdoing by the governing body.

The forest was acquired by the state specifically to sell timber rights leases for school funding. When that forest became unprofitable and unmanageable, Oregon's constitution required it's sale. Now the state (with it's $1.8 billion dollar deficit) has to pull money out of somewhere so that this economic drain out in the middle of nowhere can stay relatively unused and unmanaged.

Everything about the Elliott state forest has blown way out of proportion by Oregon's politicians and Oregon's media outlets. It is one of the poorest examples of the fight for/against public lands.

Caty_Enders112 karma

Hey! Elliott actually seems pretty representative of what happens when public land is transferred to the states. Historically, 70% of national land transferred to the states in the form of lands grants has been sold off. These historical land grants were meant to generate revenue for the states—agreed. But states often don't have the budget to manage public land and keep it public. And it seems like the state's management choices played into the lack of viability as a mixed-use area. After all, local groups advocated for limiting timber cutting, which resulted in a loss of revenue for the state. This piece from Willamette Week touches on that. (Edited to include a link!)

Darth_Ra97 karma

The forest was acquired by the state specifically to sell timber rights leases for school funding. When that forest became unprofitable and unmanageable, Oregon's constitution required it's sale. Now the state (with it's $1.8 billion dollar deficit) has to pull money out of somewhere so that this economic drain out in the middle of nowhere can stay relatively unused and unmanaged.

This is really the point, though. It's not that State's are doing wrong necessarily by selling the land, it's that it's been proven time and time again that they just don't have the resources to manage it.

How many dead goldfish before you stop visiting the pet store for your kid?

Caty_Enders81 karma

Hey, this is a great conversation about federal land grants. 70% of national land transferred to the states in the form of lands grants historically has been sold off. It does seem like states often don't have the budget to manage public land and keep it public. Costs of managing public land are many, including firefighting, which is upwards of $3 billion dollars per year in the US these days.

madisonrebel169 karma

Will you only be covering these kinds of misdeeds as committed by Republicans, or will you be taking an objective look at figures like Democrat Harry Reid, who has been working hard to keep an archaic law on the books allowing the mining industry to take mineral resources out of federal lands without paying a dime in federal royalties, ever?

Caty_Enders162 karma

Thanks—you're totally right to point out that mismanagement of national lands happens on both sides of the aisle. We haven't covered Reid and the General Mining Law. This is going to sound like a lame answer, but I mean it sincerely: I appreciate you bringing it up, and I'll be looking into it. EDIT: TBC, I'll be looking into the Reid/General Mining Law story. We're definitely covering land mismanagement on both sides of the aisle.

jnordwick33 karma

That sounds like you just implied you are just hitting on Republicans.

Caty_Enders74 karma

Hey, thanks for pointing that out. Edited for clarity. I hit on tall/dark/handsome Republicans and Dems equally (kidding).

Rubcionnnnn92 karma

Not sure if this is quite relevant, but what kind of enforcement do lumber companies have in making National Forest land "private"? I'm a big fan of my local NF, El Dorado National Forest, but when just wandering around or exploring it's almost impossible to really explore and enjoy the isolation due to "No trespassing, property of (lumber company)" signs that seem to surround both sides of every road that keep anyone from really going anywhere off the road. On top of that, they put up locked gates, metal barriers or just simply tear up the forest with bulldozers to make trenches to keep people out. Is this legal?

Caty_Enders134 karma

Hm, interesting. It sounds like they might have an inholding in the forest. Sometimes small sections of private land can cut off huge quantities of public land and prevent access. If it's mixed use land—even if a timber or oil or gas company has leased it—the public should still have access. They shouldn't be allowed to deliberately obstruct public right of way. If you want to send me more info, we can look into it: [first name].[last name]@theguardian.com. Many thanks!

bpgigty54 karma

Are there specific companies that profit from this?

Caty_Enders88 karma

Good question. Groups that back land transfer, like the American Lands Council and the Mountain States Legal Foundation, have received funding from industry groups. MSLF has received money from Texaco, Phillips Petroleum, U.S. Steel, the Coors foundation and ExxonMobil. The American Lands Council, which has employed Utah state rep Ken Ivory, has received funding from fossil fuel interest/Koch-backed ALEC and Americans for Prosperity.

h1jynx47 karma

As a hunter, kayaker, hiker, camper, outdoorsperson... outside of increasing visibility, what can we do?

Caty_Enders52 karma

Hey! Thanks for your question. It's a good one, but since I'm running out of steam I'm going to copy-paste from a similar answer I gave above: Calling your reps is the first thing. Stay informed and join groups that can help you do that and amplify your voice. In terms of land transfer, groups like the Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers have really led the way. That sort of pressure has really made a difference in western states with state-level bills in support of land transfer. And in response to massive negative pressure from “groups I support and care about," Utah rep. Jason Chaffetz pulled his bill in the House to sell off or give away 3.3 million acres of BLM land. Public pressure around public lands really has made a difference.

libredraldit46 karma

Is this situation unique to the US? Wondering what other people in other countries would think about this situation -- like would people in the UK think this is bonkers?

Caty_Enders112 karma

US public land is pretty darn unique in its breadth and accessibility. The whole National/State dynamic creates issues that are largely American. But rolling back protections on public land isn't unique at all. You'll find it all over the third world. If you visit Zimbabwe, for example, you'll find aggressive mining around National Parks leaving toxic methane clouds that you can drive through for hours. What I keep hearing from from big game hunters that are fighting land transfer in the US is that America's public lands are like nothing else on earth—they've traveled the globe to hunt and now they're fighting like hell back at home because nothing compares to what we have here. Ours to lose sort of thing.

utconservationist27 karma

There has been a lot of rhetoric from Congress and elsewhere that public lands are being over-regulated and mismanaged from "bureaucrats from DC," but day-to-day land mgmt operations, including permitting and planning really comes from actions, decisions and monitoring at field offices out West, from people that live in local communities - have you spoken to local federal agency staff in the West about their perspectives or thoughts or how this is affecting them?

Caty_Enders24 karma

Hey! It's a really good point—land management agencies employ people on the ground, and the managers, biologists, rangers, agents, what have you live in the communities where they work. We'd definitely like to publish more stories from people actually working for these federal agencies. One piece along these lines is on my story list, but I think those voices should be in more stories—not just the higher ups who work in the major branches. Thanks for question!

arya4everrr26 karma

Have you been visiting these places as part of your reporting? Places you would recommend to make sure to check out now... in case!

Caty_Enders62 karma

Man, there are so many places I feel like I need to visit asap. I've spent a good bit of time at Cedar Mesa in Utah, which is within the newly designated Bears Ears National Monument. (Bears Ears is among the most loudly contested national monuments, and Interior Secretary Zinke is currently reviewing it and 26 others at Trump's request). It's like no other place on earth. Hiking through feels like a combination of stepping back in time and visiting mars. The archaeological sites there are insane.

EmmaTheHedgehog15 karma

Utah has a lot of spots that make me feel like that. It's like a whole different plant. Probably filmed some old Star Trek worlds there.

Also, I live in BLM land / forest service land in Colorado. As do many people I know. And I don't think anyone I know has talked about this at all. Granted, it's a small fun mountain town so no one will really talk politics with me.

Hopefully, I can use this to actually interest some people. I mean, at least get them to vote

Caty_Enders19 karma

Cool! Yeah, it's a largely underreported area. I didn't know until recently about PILT (Payments in Lieu of Taxes) that counties who have public land within their borders receive. In some places, that can make up several million dollars for a county's annual budget.

CarveTheMind16 karma

What can I do to have the government give me free public land? I then want to turn around and sell it to somebody else for a profit. Ideally, I'd like my land to be mineral rich or oceanfront. You know what? Just let them know I'll take all of it. I'm not even greedy, I'll settle for half.

Please and thank you.

Also, what's your favorite piece of baseball equipment?

Caty_Enders15 karma

Cleats, for sure. Who doesn't want to be The Flash?

Frajer16 karma

How do they determine who owns public land?

Caty_Enders48 karma

I make the call—you own it. /s Public land that's national is owned by American citizens and held in trust by the federal government. It's the commons!

InTupacWeTrust15 karma

  • How would you get the two sides to start communicating? I know people like to play the blame game, but it's the fault of who's in charge of both parties

  • Media is here to sway people's opinions reporting on things without facts. When did the media take such a bad turn?

Caty_Enders20 karma

Such a good question. I think this is actually really a good issue for bipartisan communication—people on both sides of the aisle want to protect public lands for mixed use. Both sides need to listen to the needs of people with different political persuasions who actually want the same thing: to protect public lands for us and our kids. We ran this really good piece from Elliott Woods looking at ranchers' response to land transfer. I think he got at some really important points around how ranchers have felt marginalized and diminished.

If the media is going to do a good job, outlets need to spend more time reporting in the communities they're trying to cover. It's hard with budget cuts across the industry—but the only way to do it right is to invest in on-the-ground reporting. We're trying to do that with this series.

Charles_VIII5 karma

Seems sort of futile to me, aren't Republicans against Federally owned anything?

Caty_Enders17 karma

Yeah, I agree with the points made below. Public lands are extremely popular with voters on both sides. Actually Interior Secretary Zinke is also against federal land transfer to the states, along with a good number of other Republican politicians. But there are definitely land management decisions that stick in the throats of people who have to live with them. We want to do a good job of covering those too, since federal land management is far from perfect. Unfortunately, Congress this spring to killed the BLM "Planning 2.0" initiative, which was designed to give locals more input into how public lands are used.

UnfilteredAmerica12 karma

Can you show us anything that says or implies that any land will be "given away"?

Caty_Enders36 karma

Hey, thanks for the question. I'll offer a few. First off, there's the change to the rules for the House of Representatives this year, which zeros out the value of federally managed land, so that land can be transferred to state or local entities for free, without accounting for the loss to federal revenue: "a 5 provision in a bill or joint resolution, or in an 6 amendment thereto or a conference report thereon, 7 requiring or authorizing a conveyance of Federal 8 land to a State, local government, or tribal entity 9 shall not be considered as providing new budget au- 10 thority, decreasing revenues, increasing mandatory 11 spending, or increasing outlays". This change was introduced by Utah rep Rob Bishop. Then there's the bill Chaffetz introduced for "disposal" of 3.3m acres of federal land, which he withdrew due to popular opposition. There's also the $50 million of taxpayer money that Rob Bishop has asked for to facilitate the transfer of federal land to the states.

akjkakjk8 karma

Who's been leading the cause to taking over federal lands... certain folks who have joined the trump admin but have been working at this for a while?

Caty_Enders23 karma

Hey, thanks for your question. The push to transfer federal lands has been stirring for some time, and we put together a list of current leaders heading the small political contingent. But if you look back at the history of the Sagebrush rebellion, a lot of the same names keep cropping up. For example, the Mountain States Legal Foundation (a 501C3 that supports land transfer advocates and rolling back public land protections) was founded with money from Coors back in the late seventies, when we saw the last push to transfer federal land to the states. Utah continues to be the most aggressive about it, and Utah Senator Orrin Hatch was a major advocate back in the seventies.

CharlesHBronson8 karma

What can we do to get hunters and hikers to partner up and protect public lands?

Caty_Enders10 karma

Hey! This is a great question. The Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers have made an incredible impact this spring, advocating for public access and sportsmen's rights. It will be interesting to see if the broader outdoor coalition can come together. I don't have a good answer as to how or whether that will happen. But this piece from Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia's founder, does a great job articulating why people with a stake in public lands need to be less fractious and do a better job organizing and partnering up.

lovely_avocado8 karma

how can we help? besides voting and talking to our reps, what can we do to stop this?

Caty_Enders15 karma

Hey! Calling your reps is the first thing. Stay informed and join groups that can help you do that and amplify your voice. In terms of land transfer, groups like the Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers have really led the way. That sort of pressure has really made a difference in western states with state-level bills in support of land transfer. And in response to massive negative pressure from “groups I support and care about," Utah rep. Jason Chaffetz pulled his bill to sell off or give away 3.3 million acres of BLM land.. Public pressure around public lands really has made a difference.

kenuffff8 karma

why don't you think states should oversee their own land? could you explain your position on that? shouldn't people that live in that state control the land there not someone in D.C.?

Caty_Enders15 karma

Hey! Thanks for your question—it's one that comes up a lot in this conversation. To clear up some confusion around this: federal land within state boundaries does not belong to the states—every state when it joined the union signed away its right to lay claim to the land that was national within its agreed upon borders. It's in the states' individual constitutions. So you can argue whether or not this is a good thing for the individual states—whether or not the federal government is doing a good enough job managing them—but it's always been that way, since each state's inception. One argument that land transfer opponents make is that 70% of public land that's been transferred to the states has been privatized, which doesn't really support the argument that state management better serves public access and use.

MorphineBear7 karma

What does the $100k goal contribute to? Is that solely for travel and living costs while you document what's going on?

Caty_Enders13 karma

Hey! Thanks for your question. Here's more info on how reader contributions will fund our journalism: https://contribute.theguardian.com/us?INTCMP=gdnwb_copts_memco_this_land_redditama

czarinaplong7 karma

Hi Caty! Thanks for doing this AMA. In your opinion, what is the most effective thing(s) a concerned citizen can do to prevent the giveaway of public lands?

Caty_Enders10 karma

Hey! Thanks for this important question. I'm going to copy-paste from a similar answer I gave above, as the coffee is beginning to lose its effect: Calling your reps is the first thing. Stay informed and join groups that can help you do that and amplify your voice. In terms of land transfer, groups like the Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers have really led the way. That sort of pressure has really made a difference in western states with state-level bills in support of land transfer. And in response to massive negative pressure from “groups I support and care about," Utah rep. Jason Chaffetz pulled his bill in the House to sell off or give away 3.3 million acres of BLM land. Public pressure around public lands really has made a difference.

quirkygranola7 karma

hi caty! how have you approached taking on this series? how are you deciding what to focus on, is it based on new proposed legislation?

Caty_Enders17 karma

Hey, quirky! Thanks for asking. The series grew out of an incredible response to the pieces we've run around public land. Our readers seemed surprised to hear about legislation that would reverse or eliminate federal protection for public land. We found that a lot of environmental resources in other national newsrooms were going to cover climate change (understandably), and that not enough attention was being paid to the real, new and underreported threats to US public lands. So we decided to carve out space for it. We've published a reader callout and are in part using reader feedback to shape where we go with this series.

almondparfitt7 karma

Have you noticed this issue faces similar challenges to climate changes issues overall? Just seems incredibly complicated... are there core components that have resonated in your stories (or for organizations working on these issues) for convincing people to care?

Caty_Enders35 karma

Hey, thanks for the question! It seems like public lands are infinitely more bipartisan than climate change. Constituents on both sides of the aisle think that public lands are a good thing—so the prospect of land transfer seems to unite user groups that don’t normally agree, like ranchers, hunters, conservationists, cyclists, etc.. Unlike climate change, which seems to be divisive, keeping public land public seems like a universal—apart from a small number of industry-funded politicians who are pressing very hard. The idea of losing physical access to public land seems to resonate with most Americans.

almondparfitt6 karma

Have those groups faced issues organizing against takeover of public lands since they're not usually a political organized unit? Or does that tend to fall under groups like NRDC? Thanks for reporting on this!

Caty_Enders12 karma

That's a good question, and I can only speak to it anecdotally, but opposition groups seem to have been really successful in fighting land transfer so far. They've gotten politicians on the state and federal level to pull bills supporting land transfer this past winter and spring. What will be interesting to see going forward is how these groups manage against bills that eliminate public access and input in ways that are more subtle than outright land transfer. For example, bills like HR622, introduced by Jason Chaffetz, that would gut the Interior's budget for law enforcement on public land. He still hasn't withdrawn that one. And Congress managed to reverse the BLM "Planning 2.0" initiative, which gave locals more input into how public lands were used. Those bills are more complicated, and it's still being tested how local groups that aren't political manage against that sort of legislation.

BeachBum20124 karma

What other people/organizations do you feel are doing the most to fight against the transfer of federal land? Is there anyone or any organizations that you feel could do the greatest amount of good with our support?

Caty_Enders4 karma

Hey, thanks for this! On my way out, but this is a question that I answered more fully in a few other responses. In brief: Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and the Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Partnership have made a huge impact this spring

bahnmiagain4 karma

What's the problem in giving land back to the states to take care of? Seems like it's a 6 to one, half a dozen to the other scenario??

Caty_Enders12 karma

Hey! Thanks for your question. The objection from sportsmen's groups has been that national land transferred to the states historically has been sold of %70 of the time. States also typically limit access more than the federal government does. That Field and Stream graphic is an interesting read.

SoftlySpokenPromises4 karma

Out of curiosity, and it may have little to do with the issue, but is that anything like the eminent domain issues were currently facing in the small town where I live?

Caty_Enders5 karma

Hey! I'd love to hear more about the eminent domain issues where you live. If it's about federal mismanagement of land, we might cover it in this series. If it's a national story but not right for this series, I'll pass it along to another editor. Thanks for your time! [first name].[last name]@theguardian.com

acolyte_to_jippity3 karma

So in general, what is this 640m acres of national land being used for currently? I'm certain that a portion is for various military bases and national parks, but that can't account for all of it could it?

Also, I just want to say, I read a book about your game and it was pretty good.

Caty_Enders6 karma

My game is the best game.

The majority of federal land isn't parks or military bases but National Forest and BLM land, which is public and also can be leased by lots of different industries. National Parks account for just 85 million. This is a pretty solid breakdown of federal lands by designation.

Mikeheathen2 karma

Hi Caty,

Thanks so much for taking the time to do this. What can the average citizen do to spread awareness and demonstrate our discontent with the people making these decisions that take away our public lands?

Caty_Enders2 karma

Hey! Thanks for your question. I'm going to copy-paste my answer to a similar question: Calling your reps is the first thing. Stay informed and join groups that can help you do that and amplify your voice. In terms of land transfer, groups like the Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers have really led the way. That sort of pressure has really made a difference in western states with state-level bills in support of land transfer. And in response to massive negative pressure from “groups I support and care about," Utah rep. Jason Chaffetz pulled his bill in the House to sell off or give away 3.3 million acres of BLM land. Public pressure around public lands really has made a difference.

DongleNocker1 karma

What is your favorite game?

Caty_Enders7 karma

LIFE

DongleNocker11 karma

Finally we know what Ender's Game is.

Caty_Enders13 karma

A new variant on the joke I've heard my entire life. Well done, sir!

classykatiecat1 karma

I'm a baby journalist, freshman in college! Any advice on breaking into the industry? I already schmooze with the higher ups for advice and work on the school paper, trying to open an investigative unit.

Caty_Enders5 karma

Hey, thanks for reaching out. If you'd like to chat, you can reach me at [first name].[last name]@theguardian.com

liftertarian0 karma

I'm a libertarian, I firmly believe that the government should not be involved with anything & a great stepping stone toward that would be States Rights. That being said, my least "libertarian" stance is that of the environment. There needs to be a "higher power" to protect our gorgeous land. I would much rather National Parks exist by the state than say, McDonald's. What is the difference between federal land & state land? Shouldn't individual states decide what to do with their land?

BubblyEconGirl6 karma

Federal land = purchased by the federal government, and usually managed through BLM or the National Parks Service. State land = purchased by state governments or gifted to them by the federal. As enshrined in the Constitution, the power of the federal government supersedes that of state governments. States should certainly have the power to decide what to do with the lands that they own, but the federal government has the power to decide what to do with the land that they in turn own. I'm addition, if a state is mismanaging its lands in a way that is to the detriment of multiple states (for example, pollution that runs through rivers to other states), it's the federal government's responsibility to step in and protect these lands, in order to make the will of people in outside states that are being affected known.

jakesdrool2 karma

Just a correction here:

"As enshrined in the constitution, the power of the federal government supersedes that of state governments."

That's not true. The Constitution specifically enumerates the power of the federal government and reserves all other rights to the states. In this case, there is nothing in the Constitution about federally owned and managed lands.

Now, this has been a great issue for over two centuries and continues today, those who would thwart and are in favor of a more powerful federal gov't vs those who seek to conserve (conservatives) the original intent of the Constitution.

Caty_Enders2 karma

Hey! Just to weed out some misinformation here, the constitution does in fact address federal land ownership.

Even the conservative Heritage Foundation interprets the Property Clause to mean that the federal government is responsible for managing and administering national land. Check out their interpretation of the Property Clause in the Constitution.