Friday, December 18, 2015
Federal lands, public dilemma (And a Big Thank You to American Lands Council)
Imagine owning a house, and the town mayor controls two rooms simply because he is the mayor and believes he can put them to better use than you can. Not a very pleasant thought, right?
This situation is not so different from the ongoing battle between states and the federal government over federally-controlled public lands. As Utah State Rep. Ken Ivory, president of the American Lands Council and senior policy fellow at State Budget Solutions, explains: "For decades now, Washington has been progressively commandeering from local control, matters of land access, land use and land ownership, particularly, though not exclusively, throughout the western states. States, counties, municipalities, businesses and individuals have been reeling to defend against the metastasizing maze of federal policies, regulations and edicts."
...While these agencies all control large amounts of land, what makes it more shocking is that these holdings are composed of lands from only 11 western states. Many of these states lack the necessary funds to cover expenses for education and other public services. However, vast deposits of natural resources lie within these states on federally-controlled lands that remain heavily restricted.
In attempting to manage these valuable resources, the federal government actually loses money. According to the Montana-based Property and Environment Research Center (PERC), a nonprofit focused on solutions to environmental problems, "The federal government loses money managing valuable natural resources on federal lands while states generate significant financial returns from state trust lands."
On average, the federal government gains approximately 73 cents for every dollar spent managing these lands. Overall, mismanagement of federally-owned lands costs American taxpayers nearly $2 billion a year.
State Trust Lands, by contrast, were given by the federal government to states in order to generate revenue when they first gained statehood. Revenues come from many sources, such as timber harvesting, grazing, mineral extraction, commercial development and conservation. In Montana, Idaho, New Mexico and Arizona, State Trust Lands generate around $14.51 for every dollar spent on land management.
Continued federal control of state land undermines the principle of federalism. Many western state economies are crippled by federal restrictions on access to their own natural resources. Americans nationwide are then heavily taxed in order to subsidize western states and alleviate their current economic hardship. This would be avoided, if only states had full ownership and control over their own lands.
Karim Elsayed is a policy fellow at Federalism In Action
A candidate for President says these lands should be transferred to the states, think tanks like PERC are studying the issue and policy wonks like Elsayed are writing about it. Why? Because of the tireless and professional efforts of Ken Ivory and the American Lands Council to educate the public and keep the issue before our political leaders.
Every Westerner owes a big thank you to the American Lands Council and we here at The Westerner wish them continued success.