The ins and outs of House Bill 621

Editor’s Update: Due to an outpouring of public dissent, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) has now withdrawn H.R. 621.

Last week, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) introduced H.R. 621 to the U.S. House of Representatives. According to its page on, the bill aims “to direct the Secretary of the Interior to sell certain Federal lands in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming, previously identified as suitable for disposal, and for other purposes.”

The bill has remained out of the limelight, overshadowed by national protests and outrage following the president’s issuance of several consequential executive orders. Even so, backlash against H.R. 621 is gaining traction due to the efforts of conservation organizations, sportsmen groups, and millions of citizens (e.g., climbers) who wish to preserve public land.

As with any other complex problem, it’s easy to become marred in the surface-level details and base a reaction (or an outrage) upon them. So before you protest, understand the issue. Let’s start with the facts. Non-alternative facts!

fake news

What you need to know about H.R. 621

  • All of the lands deemed “suitable for disposal” by H.R. 621 are managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), itself a subsidiary of the Department of the Interior. Public lands not managed by the DOI (such as Forest Service lands and National Parks) are not threatened by the bill.
  • In a 2012 report, the BLM states clearly that it manages 247.3 million acres of public land within the United States. If passed, H.R. 621 would sell only 1.3% of the BLM land–0.5% of the 643.2 million acres of total public land in this country.
  • Rep. Chaffetz cites a 1997 report compiled by the BLM for the Clinton administration as support for his initiative. The original intent of the report was to locate potential BLM land sales that would fund a restoration project for Everglades National Park. Many of the land parcels within the report include numerous “impediments to disposal” (i.e. impediments to sale). Obviously, the impediments prevented any of these lands from ever being sold.
  • The 1997 report does not include an estimated grant total for the potential available land’s value–so I summed it up myself. Accounting for value ranges, averages, and the total lack of valuation in Nebraska, I concluded that the available land would be worth around $1.7 billion. Nevada would come out on top with $1.3 billion of the total.
  • The Guardian points out that “Chaffetz’s proposal might in fact be in violation of the common-law Public Trust Doctrine, which requires that the federal government keep and manage national resources for all Americans,” and that, so far, “courts have upheld the policy that sale or use must be in Americans’ interest.”

What H.R. 621 means for climbers

Despite the bill being in its very early stages, the prospect of its passing through the Legislative and Executive branches is a reality, thanks in large part to Congress’ rule change (see page 35) that makes it easier to sell federal lands to states and non-government entities.

Many climbers rely on BLM lands for their way of life. Although H.R. 621 would sell only a small fraction of the total acreage managed by the BLM, it nonetheless sets a gut-wrenching precedent that we ought to be aware of. If this is just the beginning of proposed federal land transfers, what might be next?

Some of our most treasured climbing areas are located on BLM land. Bishop, Indian Creek and Castle Valley, Trout Creek, the Virgin River Gorge, and many more. To understand more about the public lands we use for rock climbing, please read Paul Nelson’s stellar guide on the subject.

H.R. 621 and the report it’s based on provide no indication of the specific parcels of land to be targeted. Although the likelihood of a climbing area being sold to private interests is low, it is still a possibility we should expect. We can only hope that the bill dies somewhere along its legislative journey.

In the meantime, you can contact your local state representative to let him or her know how you feel about this issue, and consider joining or donating to The Access Fund.

Notable ascents

Laura Rogora snags 8c+/9a FA

15-year-old Laura Rogora has established La Gasparata (8c+/9a / 5.14c/d) at Collepardo in Italy. According to Rock & Ice, Rogora’s ascent is a contender for the hardest route ever established by a female athlete. Her first ascent follows her ascents of three other 5.14s in Oliana, Spain, and 10 months after her send of Grandi Gesti (5.14d) in Sperlonga, Italy last March.

Stefano Ghisolfi sends Sharma’s 9b

Italian climber Stefano Ghisolfi has completed Chris Sharma’s First Round, First Minute (9b / 5.15b), located at Margalef, Spain. In an interview with Rock & Ice, Ghisolfi notes

When I sent it my climb was mostly controlled. I knew I had the chance to do it and I climbed it with no problems.

This was Ghisolfi’s second 5.15b after establishing Lapsus at Andonno, Italy in November 2015.

Anna Stohr sends stand start to Meadowlark Lemon (V13)

Austrian Anna Stohr, a legend of the Bouldering World Cup competition circuit, completed the V13 stand start to Paul Robinson’s sandstone testpiece Meadowlark Lemon in Red Rock, Nevada. This comes after a controversy a few weeks ago when Ethan Pringle returned to the boulder problem and noticed its left-hand crux sloper had been chipped.

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