June 04, 2015

The Conspiracy to Take Away Public Lands

John Gale from Backcountry Hunters and Anglers speaks to a rally
at the Colorado State Capitol in February 2015 (Durango Herald).




There is a threat to public lands in the West, and the mainstream media are largely igoring it. Even HighCountry News is ignoring it, but then HCN more and more  focused on California — that must be where the big donors are).

Unlike the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion of the mid-1980s, this is stealthier.

State legislatures in places like Colorado and Montana are seeing bills introduced urging that public lands administered by the federal government — Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, maybe even National Parks Service — be turned over for the states for management.

Doing so would be “more efficient,” “closer to the people,” whatever. The states, of course, would not be able to take care of them.

Can you imagine Colorado footing the bill for a bad forest fire season? Even my state representative, Jim Wilson, R-Salida, who strikes anti-Washington poses (“Personally, I would like to see the Feds out of the picture”) admits it:
If the Federal government were to give the land to the state of Colorado, how would we be able to afford the management costs?  I doubt that the Federal government would give back to the Colorado all the public tax dollars that are spent annually on those lands.  Not to mention the PILT (Payment In Lieu of Taxes) dollars that are used by Colorado counties to fund essential services as well as education.  And, to sell and/or develop the land to afford to manage the land is like eating your seed corn...not a sustainable practice!
But this stealth movement keeps puttering along.

You can imagine the scenarios if a state with a lot of public land, such as Utah, got ahold of it. Everything would be wide open — even more than now—to leasing for drilling and mining. Wildlife, water quality, etc., would not be be merely in the back seat; they would be clinging to the rear bumper of the development-mobile.

Since the state always is short of money (roads! schools! Medicaid!) the pressure would be on to start selling. The buyers would line up:

(a) energy companies
(b) mining companies
(c) rich people wanting huge ranches (doubling as private hunting grounds
(d) other land developers

So who is bankrolling this movement. My bet is (a).

There has been some media coverage, but it is isolated. No one is connecting Montana with Colorado, for example.

Some sample headlines:

Colorado Wildlife Federation's "Public Lands Update":
Throughout the 2015 legislative session of the Colorado General Assembly, CWF defended public lands managed by the US Forest Service and BLM from two bad bills: Senate Bills 15-039 (an attempt to confer concurrent state jurisdiction over federal lands) and 15-232 (to study how the state could manage these lands). Both bills were rejected. Colorado, as well as other western states where similar bills have been proposed, does not have the financial resources or personnel to take over management of a huge additional 23-million acre portfolio of public lands that are managed by BLM and US Forest Service. The likely outcome from such transfers would be sales of some of these irreplaceable lands to private interests.
 "[MontanaGovernor Steve] Bullock Vetoes Federal Land Task Force Bill
"A careful reading of the bill … reveals that the transfer of public lands is still very much in the sights of the task force,” Bullock’s veto letter says. “My position on this issue is crystal clear: I do not support any effort that jeopardizes or calls into question the future of our public lands heritage.”
If you backpack, hike, hunt, fish, look for mineral specimens, collect mushrooms, take photos, or do anything else on public lands, imagine losing that access. You would be no better off than a Texan.

3 comments:

Chas Clifton said...

A recent letter to the Glenwood Springs, Colo., Post-Independent asks some of the same questions.

Mark Farrell-Churchill said...

Shudder. I recently re-read Prairie Night: Black-Footed Ferrets and the Recovery of Endangered Species, and recommend it to anyone who doubts how ineffective even a well-intentioned state government can be. (In this instance Wyoming, and I'll credit at least some of their officials with being well-intentioned.)

Moma Fauna said...

Gah.

Utah in particular should never get control. The budget has always been a mess (esp. education). They'll have to start collecting *even more* (as if that which we already have isn't enough!) nuclear waste in an attempt pay for the land administration. Which won't work. So then maybe they'll start importing waste. Awesome. (Not to mention ratcheting up all the fracking & other extraction which is already underway...)