Thursday, November 03, 2016

'Too Damn Much Land': Debate Over Public Land Ownership Comes To The Northwest

More than a quarter of the lands in Washington state and more than half of Oregon’s acreage are owned by the U.S. government. It’s land that makes up national parks, forests, monuments, and wildlife refuges. So what would it mean if the federal government did what many have been asking for, and transferred those lands to states? Shortly after a jury acquitted seven defendants of conspiracy in the occupation of Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, defendant Shawna Cox told Oregon Public Broadcasting the group’s legal fight over federal lands isn’t over. “We have a lawsuit against the federal government to prove that that land does not belong to the federal government,” Cox said. “It actually belongs to the citizens of Harney County. That’s a state issue. That is not anything to do with the federal.” Congressman Rob Bishop, a Republican from Utah, agrees. “They own a third of America and that’s just too damn much land to manage efficiently and effectively,” Bishop said. He chairs the House Natural Resources Committee and argues the federal government is neither a worthy steward nor an ideal landlord. “And that’s why if you can chop it up into smaller areas and allow states and counties who do have the expertise and are there on the ground to make that determination, it can be much, much better,” Bishop said. ‘Not an appropriate argument’ Bishop was recently in Wenatchee alongside Washington Republican Congressman Dan Newhouse. About 100 people — including ranchers, horsemen and members of the NRA — came to talk about federal land management, and options to transfer ownership. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said congressmen like Newhouse and Bishop haven’t accounted for the costs associated with federal lands. “They are not inexpensive to manage and state budgets are not robust,” Jewell said. “That to suggest states could do a better job of managing them is not an appropriate argument.”...The state of the Northwest’s forests came up during a debate between Oregon’s incumbent Gov. Kate Brown and challenger Bud Pierce in September. Brown told the audience she’s found an option that doesn’t involve transferring ownership. “Most recently, I signed what’s called a good neighbor agreement with the Forest Service that we will work collaboratively to do the thinning and fire prevention work that needs to happen on our federal lands,” Brown said. “It’s a win because it puts Oregonians back to work in our woods and it also creates healthy forests.” A report this year from attorneys general from 10 Western states casts further doubt about whether a change in ownership even has legal precedent...more

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