GeoCarta Has Moved

Nov 16, 2005

New Land Rush?

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote this week on a budget bill that critics say would force the federal government to sell millions of acres of public lands in the western United States. The Los Angeles Times reports that some of the land includes national forest holdings throughout the Sierra Nevada and remote parts of the Mojave Desert.

Backers of the bill insist that the amount of land affected would be small. A spokesman for the House Resources Committee told the Times that the provision would allow for the "sale of slivers and small parcels of federal land" next to mine operations.

The provision would lift an 11-year-old moratorium on the sale of federal lands to mining companies and directs the Interior Department to sell land adjacent to mining claims for "economic development." Since the West is criss-crossed with millions of mining claims dating to the 1800s, some say the measure would make possible the widespread privatization of federal lands.

The federal government owns an enormous amount of land in the western states, upon which it pays no property taxes to the local governments. When the provision was added to the budget bill, Rep. Jim Gibbons (R-Nev.) was quoted as saying the, "purchase of lands is absolutely vital to the health of Nevada's rural communities because it expands the tax base of the local government."