Thursday, February 11, 2016
Don’t Fence Us In: Western States Seek Return of Land From D.C.
owned by the federal government. This includes 84.9 percent of land in Nevada (hiding UFOs requires lots of space), 64.9 percent of Utah, 61.6 percent of Idaho, 61.2 percent of Alaska, 52.9 percent of Oregon, 48.1 percent of Wyoming, and 45.8 percent in California. Meanwhile, the federal government owns only about 5 percent of the land in states east of the Mississippi River. Altogether, Uncle Sam owns roughly 640 million acres of land. In March 2012, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) signed the Utah Transfer of Public Lands Act into law, which instructs the federal government to relinquish more than 20 million acres of land to the State of Utah. Although Utah has yet to bring forward a suit in an attempt to enforce the law, a move that is expected to bring strong opposition from the federal government, similar legislation is being considered in nine other Western states. These states are arguing if the federal government turns over its property in the West to the states, it will result in better environmental stewardship of the land, lower management costs, and an increase in productivity. Environmentalists, support federal government land ownership in Western states because they say these lands contain the most biologically and environmentally valuable ecosystems in the nation that need to be protected by federal officials from less environmentally concerned states. “If not for federal policies for public land management,” University of Wyoming professor Debra Donahue told the New York Times, “America would lack a world-class system of national parks, wildlife refuges and wilderness areas.” This is undeniably true; however national parks, national monuments, wildlife refuges, and federal wilderness areas (FWAs), essentially the only parts of the West tourists ever lay their eyes on, would be excluded from any future land transfers. Most of the land held by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, excluding national parks, monuments, and FWAs, is the result of historical accident, not environmental concerns. During the Progressive and New Deal Eras, Congress created federal agencies to control Western lands under the belief central authorities would dispassionately apply science to determine the best use of natural resources. But as Montana State University professor of economics Holly Fretwell writes, “Science cannot determine whether hiking, biking or timber harvest is a higher-valued use. Instead, management decisions—regarding recreation use, commodity production or restoration activities—depend on budget appropriations and special interest battles.” Fretwell says this leads to gross mismanagement of public lands, leaving Western communities at risk of wildfires, soil erosion, and other environmental problems that impose steep economic costs...more