Monday, December 31, 2012

State Management of Federal Lands

The State of New Mexico
Agency Ascendancy
The state of the United States Forest Service
By Stephen L. Wilmeth

             Frank Lucas, Representative from the State of Oklahoma and Chair of the House Agriculture Committee, announced on Friday, December 21, 2012 the subcommittee chairs from his committee for the 113th Congress.  Five names were presented by Representative Lucas with the following statement:
            I am pleased to announce the Committee’s leadership team for the next Congress. Our Subcommittee Chairmen have demonstrated a commitment to ensuring the success of American agriculture and rural economies. I look forward to working with them as we address the important issues our agricultural producers and rural constituents face.
            Representative Lucas is most likely a reasonable fellow or his fellow Okies wouldn’t have reelected him November 6. His words must be true, but, to many Westerners, words just don’t seem to have the same tone and timbre as they should. For example, to those folks who live in the states of the West where the federal government controls over 50% of the land mass the suggestion of successful rural economies is simply confounding.
            More specifically, the announcement of the ‘Subcommittee’ chairs shouldn’t create nearly as much interest as the complexity and expanse of jurisdiction assigned to those leaders. For starters every one of those names comes from states without federal ownership dominion (Iowa, Texas, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Arkansas). A Westerner might have a much different perspective and just may not agree that a federal committee should be micromanaging any industry in the manner our government is evolving.
            The minutia of control is staggering. The list includes authority over Department Operations, Oversight, and Nutrition Jurisdiction; Agency oversight, review and analysis, special investigations, food stamps, nutrition and consumer programs; General Farm Commodities and Risk Management Jurisdiction; Program and markets related to cotton, cottonseed, wheat, feed grains, soybeans, oilseeds, rice dry beans, peas, lentils, the Commodity Credit Corporation, risk management, including crop insurance, commodity exchanges, and specialty crops; Conservation, Energy, and Forestry Jurisdiction; Soil, water and resource conservation, small watershed program, energy and biobased energy production, rural electrification, forestry in general and forest reserves other than those created from the public domain; Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology, and Foreign Agriculture Jurisdiction; Fruits and vegetables, honey and bees, marketing and promotion orders, plant pesticides, quarantine, adulteration of seeds and insect pests, and organic agriculture, research, education and extension, biotechnology and foreign agriculture assistance, and trade promotion programs, generally; Livestock, Rural Development , and Credit Jurisdiction; Livestock, dairy, poultry, meat, seafood and seafood products, inspection, marketing, and promotion of such commodities, aquaculture, animal welfare and grazing, rural development, farm security and family matters, and … WHEW! … agricultural credit.
            Should believers of the 9th and 10th Amendments have reason for headaches?
            The State of New Mexico
            New Mexico is a sizeable chunk of real estate. It covers 77,819,520 acres of creation that rancher Don Thompson reverently reminds his land steward colleagues, “There is no land on earth that gives more, and … expects less than New Mexico.”
The state has strong rural ties.
            Unfortunately, $.36 of every dollar now extracted and placed in the state’s budget comes from the United States Treasury. That is a troubling reality. The magnitude of such federal reliance should make every New Mexican wince especially with the pending financial crisis that looms for this nation in 2013.
Despite those woes, New Mexico still appears to be on track to maintain a balanced budget. Historically, the state has been a model of fiscal conservatism with enviable budget surpluses. The big revenue production has come variously, but oil and gas have fueled the state’s coffers.
            The state’s budget for 2013 is $5.6 billion. If the entire budget was applied to ‘risk, management, and return to land’, the outlay would represent $71.96 per acre, but, of course, there is much more in the budget than managing the state’s land, in general, or state trust land, in particular.
            The management of state trust land, though, does provide the basis of a broadening theme. The New Mexico State Land Office (SLO) oversees nine million acres of state trust surface land and some 13 million acres of subsurface rights. Based on 2012 numbers, the SLO is on track to distribute to $657.7 million to a list of beneficiaries of which education is the major recipient.
            That total represents an impressive net return to the state of $4,355,629 per SLO employee. Stated another way, the SLO trust land return per acre to New Mexico is about $29.89 per acre.
            The state of the United States Forest Service
            An interesting comparison is to seek a federal agency that has a similar budget to the State of New Mexico and then compare the relative wealth contribution to the nation. Implicit in the comparison is the suggestion that any single agency that has the financial clout of a sovereign state of the United States must contribute substantively to the wellbeing of the nation. The comparison is found in one of Representative Lucas’ oversight responsibilities, the United State Forest Service (Forest Service).
            That agency mirrors the State of New Mexico’s $5.6 billion budget with a $5.5 billion counterpart.
            Net revenues stemming from Forest Service timber sales, grazing fees, and mineral extraction for 2013 are expected to be $108,790,000. If ‘land management’, recreation, and ‘other’ are added to that total, revenue harvest from permits, leases, and gate receipts is expected to net $421,573,000. That contribution to the agency still equates to a $28.49 loss for every managed acre. It also equates to a whopping $160,584 net loss per employee!
            There is extensive narrative in the agency’s budget presentation regarding ‘theme’. The pillars of that theme are restoration, communities, and fire. Notwithstanding those words, the budget sets forth something much different.
            What can be gleaned from study is a broad generalization that the agency has become a behemoth that manages three pillars of modern purpose. The first and only activity that reflects historical effort is fighting fire. The modern day fire, however, is catastrophic fire.
The second pillar is litigation and legal settlement dispensation. To actually determine how much money the agency sinks into this black hole is impossible to discern by merely reviewing the budget. Anecdotal suggestions by former officials claim it runs between 25 and 30% of the budget.
The third pillar is what must be categorized as concentrated environmental assignments. Enhancement of domestic forest productivity is nonexistent. Expenditures include money and efforts spent internationally guiding forest management practices of third world countries. Programs also include and expand United Nation conceptualized projects of sustainability. Part of that is acquisition of more federal holdings.
In 2013, the agency has budgeted no less than $59.1 million for acquiring land. Those acquisitions are represented to be vital for critical habitat and expansion of theme issues. Without introducing diseconomies of scale, the nation has every reason to believe for every acre added to the Forest Service’s portfolio another $28.49 annual operational loss will result. Recent year budgets verify the trend and there is no substantive conceptual strategy that counters it.
SLO tenants
New Mexico’s SLO is run by the state constitutional mandate for securing revenues for educational funding. The Land Commissioner position is an elected position. Every candidate who runs for the position represents himself as the best friend education can have, and the results cannot be denied. The SLO of the State of New Mexico annually collects a quarter of a billion dollars more from state trust land activities than combined efforts of the Forest Service. That is done on 11% of a comparative land mass.
Using the same results and duplicating the metrics, the SLO should contract to the United States to assume Forest Service management. The difference would be stark. It would take an additional 1,325 state employees (which would reduce the federal counterparts by 32,925). Rather than a $5.5 billion black hole, the U.S. Treasury would receive $5.769 billion or a minimum swing of $11.26 billion.
Skeptical are you?
The State of Arizona did better. In a SLO that manages trust lands for a reported $.17 per acre, that agency projects a return to its state of $30.74 per managed acre in 2012.
If management of the federal lands was returned to the states, the hysterical outcry would be the health of the environment, but, citizenry who deal with private, state and federal lands know that productive land is healthy land. New Mexico and Arizona state trust lands are vital to Customs and Culture and they lag only private lands in total investment. State and private lands are healthy or the expanding revenue harvests wouldn’t occur.
The question is how unhealthy are federal lands? Their budget suggests monumental problems.

Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “The West has lost multiple generations of investments and enterprise improvements because of constraints imposed by federal land management. Representative Lucas could do the nation a great service if he led an effort to return management decisions to local and state controls.”


Wilmeth raises an interesting issue - who has jurisdiction over the Forest Service.

Wilmeth writes about Frank Lucas and the House Ag Committee.  An excerpt from their jurisdiction as published by House Rule:

Forestry in general, and forest reserves other than those created from the public domain.

Matters relating to the development, use, and administration of the National Forests, including, but not limited to, development of a sound program for general public use of the National Forests consistent with watershed protection and sustained-yield timber management, study of the forest fire prevention and control policies and activities of the Forest Service and their relation to coordinated activities of other Federal, State, and private agencies; Forest Service land exchanges; and wilderness and similar use designations applied to National Forest land.

Well, what about the House Natural Resources Committee?  Going to that committee's jurisdiction page we find:

Forest reserves and national parks created from the public domain.

·  Mineral land laws and claims and entries thereunder.
·  Mineral resources of public lands.
·  Mining interests generally.
·  Petroleum conservation on public lands and conservation of the radium supply in the United States.
·  Preservation of prehistoric ruins and objects of interest on the public domain.
·  Public lands generally, including entry, easements, and grazing thereon.

Wilmeth does an excellent job writing about the Forest Service budget.  Who has jurisdiction over their budget?

The House Appropriations Committee, and more specifically the Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies.

Go to their jurisdiction page and you will find that one of the "related agencies" is, you guessed it, the Forest Service.

So again I ask, who has jurisdiction over the Forest Service?  I'm sure the D.C. Deep Thinkers will reply, "it's shared".

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