In a rare case of bipartisan consensus, both presumptive presidential nominees oppose transferring federal land to states, representatives from their campaigns said.
Donald Trump Jr., eldest son of Republican nominee Donald Trump and executive vice president of development and acquisitions for The Trump Organization, said access to public lands is paramount. Trump Jr. is an avid sportsman and advises his father, he said.
“We have been pretty vocal about this for quite some time now, and it’s where we’ve broken away from traditional conservative dogma,” Trump Jr. said Thursday morning at a Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership conference in Fort Collins, Colorado.
U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-California, speaking Friday morning at the conference on behalf of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, echoed similar sentiments.
“My candidate is opposed to [public lands transfer]. She doesn’t believe we should be selling public land,” Thompson said. “… There is about $1.8 billion that is generated from the outdoor industry, that’s 12 million jobs. And if that goes away, if access goes away, if public access goes away, that shrinks.”
Trump Jr. talked about the dangers of states controlling federal lands, saying a takeover would ultimately result in states selling land, which is then lost to public use.
A sweeping western conservation poll completed in January says the majority of Wyoming residents agree. About 54 percent of those surveyed in the Colorado College State of the Rockies Project said they oppose Wyoming taking over national lands. Almost 80 percent believe there is an economic benefit in federal lands, and more than 70 percent of Wyomingites identify themselves as being conservationists.
The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee recently approved a bill telling the Department of Agriculture to give states up to 2 million acres of eligible National Forest to be managed primarily for timber production. When asked if Trump, as president, would veto such a bill, Trump Jr. said while he’s not a policy expert, his father would make sure access to public lands remains.
Thompson said Clinton is committed to not only protecting access to public lands, but also improving access, in part through partnerships with private landowners.
“She has made a commitment to increase and double down on access to public land that is currently not accessible at this time,” Thompson said. “She wants to increase it by, I believe her white paper says, 50 percent, and she’s going to make a real effort to do that.”
The statements were welcome news to some Wyoming sportsmen.
“When you have both of the two main presidential candidates against a land transfer of public lands, it’s at least heartening,” said Casper hunter Jeff Muratore. “But also we have to be guarded, because with either one of them, they could have policies that could be detrimental to public lands use.”
Some have proposed an arrangement where states manage land that’s still technically owned by the federal government. But Muratore cautioned that such a system could ultimately be just as bad as land transfers. State management, he said, could mean closing access to the public, opening land to more development or exchanging parcels of prime hunting and fishing land for less desirable or inaccessible pieces.
Trump Jr. touted his background as a sportsman, referencing childhood summers spent with his grandpa in the woods of Czechoslovakia.
“Hunting and fishing is my lifestyle. It’s how I choose to live my life. It’s how my brother and I choose to live,” he said. “It’s how we’re going to raise our families.”
He also echoed fears shared by many westerners — that land owned by the states is managed for state profit, and could be sold at any time.
Wyoming is working with the Department of Interior to sell two state-owned parcels in Grand Teton National Park. If the feds do not agree to buy them, state officials have said the land could be sold at auction.
Trump Jr. stressed the importance of access to public lands both for himself and his children, and his influence over his father.
“While I may not be the policy guy, I know I can be a very, very loud voice in his ear,” he said. “I think we can definitely do something to make sure they are preserved and maintained.”
Thompson said even though Clinton is not a hunter, she recognizes people’s right to hunt and own firearms. She will listen to people like Thompson, who is an lifelong hunter and angler, when making decisions about land and water, he said.
“She’s 100 percent on sportsmen’s’ side when it comes to increasing investments in our outdoor industry,” he said. “She is completely opposed to selling public property … She will listen to us. We have to figure out how to bring everybody together and resolve the challenges we face.”