Don’t we all we want healthy air, water and wildlife, abundant outdoor recreation, and safe, vibrant communities? Wouldn’t it be good to manage our public lands with these priorities at the forefront of every decision?
That’s why elected officials and resource experts from numerous states gathered Oct 19-21 in Salt Lake City for the Annual Conference of the American Lands Council (ALC). This year, leaders from around the nation once again unanimously reaffirmed support of ALC’s Public Policy Statement which “urges timely and orderly transfer of federal public lands to willing states for local control that will provide better public access, better environmental health, and better economic productivity”.Unfortunately, Washington DC’s out-of-touch style is increasingly blocking public access, allowing devastating pests and wildfires to ravage our environment, and killing rural economies.
The ALC Policy specifically calls for keeping public lands public -- NOT selling them as defenders of federal control like to repeat over and over. In fact, our extremely debt-ridden federal government can sell public lands now, and they often do. Defenders of federal control tend to avoid that stubborn fact. Opponents also forget to mention that ALC seeks legislative action to transfer ordinary public lands to States, NOT National Parks, Wilderness, Indian Reservations, or Military Installations. Our efforts are focused on improving conditions on lands that are supposed to be managed for multiple uses, but increasingly aren't.
HOW WOULD IT WORK? We are pursuing concepts for a federal bill that would provide a simple mechanism allowing States to apply for specific tracts of federally controlled land as they are willing and ready to care for these areas responsibly. Under this framework, States could apply for small-scale pilot project areas first and, if successful, seek additional tracts in the future. Safeguards would be put in place to preserve existing public access routes and ensure that valid existing rights such as mineral claims, grazing rights, and water rights are honored. And transferred lands would be administered in a manner consistent with each county's resource management plan. Such requirements would protect public access while allowing State and local citizens to have a meaningful role in balancing use and conservation priorities.
Finally, an equitable revenue-sharing arrangement between the State and any counties containing transferred land would require a large portion of use fees such as mineral royalties, timber receipts, and grazing fees to stay with the county to help fund things like local roads, crime control, ambulance, fire departments, and other public services. The State’s portion of the proceeds could be used to support schools, highways, healthcare or other public programs anywhere in the State.
Economically, socially, and environmentally this could be a big win-win.
Of course, disbursement of proceeds would be calculated after management costs are factored in, including setting adequate funds aside for a firefighting reserve account. Based on historic evidence, states operate millions of acres of existing State public lands more efficiently than the federal government operates theirs, and states typically generate land management revenues that meet or exceed management costs. So YES, States can afford it. It is the federal government that struggles to stay out of the red.
The key is, States would not necessarily have to raise use fees to cover management costs. There are plenty of efficiency improvements that could be made once federal bureaucracy is lifted. One of the biggest cost-saving advantages of shifting from federal to State-based public land management would be a sharp reduction in frivolous lawsuits that have obstructed federal land managers for decades. For example, under State law, State foresters are able to efficiently implement selective logging projects to generate revenue and reduce wildfire risks. States are able to go in quickly and put wildfires out when they are still small. Federal land managers, on the other hand, are increasingly hamstrung by a growing myriad of federal policies and distant bureaucracies that prevent cost-effective management and result in massively expensive wildfires every year. That type of nonsense has got to change.
Real corrections in how our public lands are managed are possible. Reducing federal control and avoiding Washington DC gridlock politics will enable States to implement better public land management to benefit our communities and environment. And despite opposition rhetoric to the contrary, it is exactly that simple.
State management would open a lot of doors for badly needed jobs, while increasing revenues for local governments, keeping public access open, implementing sensible conservation practices, and stopping pests and wildfires BEFORE they erupt into multi-million dollar disasters.
We can have a healthy environment, abundant recreation, & safe, vibrant communities.
All we need is people of all political stripes to begin working together to #FreeTheLands from distant, unaccountable federal bureaucracies so we can #RestoreBalance and tend our public lands more wisely for the betterment of our communities, our environment, our States, and ultimately our nation as a whole.