Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Interior Dept. faces resistance in push for more public lands

It's cost $15 to shoot a duck since 1991, but that will change if President Barack Obama gets his way. Under the president's new budget proposal, the cost of the federal duck stamp required for hunting would rise to $25 next year, a move aimed at making it easier for the Interior Department to buy more land for migratory waterfowl. It's just a small example of how the Interior Department wants to get both larger and leaner in the coming year, relying more on fees and less on tax dollars. The department, which already controls 20 percent of the nation's public lands, is proposing to use $212 million in public funds to buy land for more parks and wildlife refuges, including multiple sites to commemorate the Civil War. In addition, the department wants to buy more land with $450 million from the nation's Land and Water Conservation Fund, a 30 percent increase from this year's purchases. It's a separate fund that doesn't rely on tax dollars, instead using royalties from oil and gas drilling. Critics, including Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, contend that the federal government already has too much property to maintain. When Salazar pitched his plan to the committee Wednesday, Hastings said it would be far better if the Interior Department focused instead on improving its current holdings. "The Interior Department continues to have a maintenance backlog on federal lands that measures into the billions," Hastings told Salazar. "The bottom line is that we should not be increasing spending for land acquisition when the government cannot maintain the land it already owns."...more

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