Monday, March 12, 2012

Free the American West

Like much else in government, U.S. public land policy is a vestige of the past, established in 1910 when America's population was just 92.2 million and a Western state such as Nevada had only 81,000 residents. Most public land decisions are made by two federal agencies, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, and involve matters such as the number of cows that will be allowed to graze, the areas available to off-road recreational vehicles, the prevention and fighting of forest fires, the building of local roads, the amount of timber harvesting, the leasing of land for oil and gas drilling, mineral rights and other such details. Outside the rural West, most such decisions are made by private landowners or by state and local governments. In the West, Washington acts as if it knows best. Like other grand designs of the "progressive" era, public land policy has failed the test of time. Public lands have not been managed efficiently to maximize national benefits but instead in response to political pressures. Past mismanagement has turned many national forests into flammable tinderboxes where intense crown fires reaching to the top of the trees — once a rarity — consume entire forests...more

Here's what Dr. Nelson recommends:

A rational public lands policy more suited to current and future needs would put the nationally important lands into a newly reorganized federal environmental protection system. Ordinary recreational lands would be managed at the state and local level, perhaps by transferring them to local counties. What better steward of a local recreation area than the people who live in the area? The commercially most valuable lands, meanwhile, would be transferred to new ownership or put under long-term federal leases. Lands that have real commercial value could produce a double benefit: revenue from leases and land sales, and additional revenue from the jobs, minerals, oil, gas, lumber and other commodities the freed-up lands would produce.

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