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first_imgDonald Trump in Trump Tower, 2015. Photo: Michael VadonAlaska issues don’t come up much in presidential debates, but Donald Trump did face a public lands question, and his answer struck a nerve among Western conservatives.Download AudioA reporter for the magazine Field & Stream did an interview with Trump in late January in Las Vegas.“Seventy percent of hunters in the West hunt on public lands managed by the federal government. Right now there’s a lot discussion about the federal government transferring those lands to states, divesting them of that land. Is that something that you would support as president?” the reported asked.“I don’t like the idea because I want to keep the lands great,” Trump said.  “And you don’t know what the states are going to do with them. Are they going to sell as soon as they get in a little bit of a trouble? I don’t think it’s something that should be sold.”Wrong answer, at least according to U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan“Mr. Trump looks obviously uninformed,” the Alaska senator said.Moving more land out federal control is one of Sullivan’s top goals. Collectively, Alaska’s all-Republican delegation has sponsored dozens of bills over the years to do that. Many transfer small parcels, like surplus property from an old Coast Guard Loran station in Tok. Or larger chunks, including some 2,000 acres at Point Spencer, near Nome, to the Bering Straits Native Corp and the state, for possible development as a port. And then there’s the decades-long effort to re-open the Native allotment process for veterans who missed out during the Vietnam War.Alaska’s sole House member, Don Young, has a bill that would require the Forest Service to convey up to 2 million acres to each state. Young, at a hearing on the bill, said the states can do a better job.“The worst managed lands, by our government, is the Forest Service lands,” he said.That sort of bill, to wrest public lands away from the federal government, is part of a trend among conservative lawmakers in the West. Utah is trying to get 30 million acres of federal land. The state’s legislature passed a law demanding the federal government turn over the land and then pledged millions of dollars to press its legal case.In the Alaska Legislature, House speaker Mike Chenault sponsored a bill modeled after the Utah approach, requiring the federal government hand over land to the state by the start of next year. Sen Bill Wielechowski questioned the point of it.“We’re basically saying the United States shall relinquish title to its public land, which would be great, right? Except I suspect that on January 1, 2017 the United States government isn’t going to do that,” the Anchorage Democrat said at a hearing last month in Juneau. “And so, is it the administration’s proposal to send in the National Guard? Start arresting federal agents? What’s your plan to enforce this statute if it’s ever on the books?”An aide to Chenault said he didn’t expect any enforcement like that but asserted the state would be a better manager of the real estate he says the feds have “locked up.”Naturally, conservation groups don’t like this new movement.“We don’t think we should privatize any federal lands. These lands belong to all Americans,” says Athan Manuel, director the Sierra Club’s public lands protection program. Manuel now finds himself in the unexpected position of agreeing with Republican front-runner.“We were shocked that he said that,” Manuel said. “On the one hand it was good. On the other it was surprising, to hear that from Donald Trump.”Trump’s challengers aren’t with him on this. Sen. Ted Cruz pounced after Trump’s statement to Field & Stream in Las Vegas.“Eighty-five percent of Nevada is owned and regulated by the federal government. And Donald Trump wants to keep big government in charge. That’s ridiculous,” Cruz said in a campaign video ad.And Trump may not be all that committed to his position, either. He submitted an op-ed to Nevada newspapers complaining about the BLM’s “draconian” control over lands there, and its reluctance to sell at an affordable price.Sen. Sullivan says he thinks Trump can be rehabilitated with more information.“Yeah, because it looked like he was kind of struggling. And the answer seemed kind of all over the place,” Sullivan said.Sullivan offered to show Trump around Alaska, which he thinks will convince him federal land ownership isn’t all that great.last_img

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