Goals of Public Land Transfer Reaffirmed at National Conference
By Jennifer Fielder
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?
Unfortunately, Washington DC’s out-of-touch style is increasingly blocking public access, allowing pests and wildfires to ravage our environment, and killing rural communities.
Last month, leaders from around the nation gathered for the American Lands Council (ALC) annual conference and 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”.
The ALC Policy specifically calls for keeping public lands public — NOT selling them as proponents of federal control like to claim. In fact, our extremely debt-ridden U.S. government can sell public lands now, and they often do. Our critics never seem to mention that.
To be clear, ALC is not advocating transfer of National Parks, Wilderness, Indian Reservations, or Military Installations. Our efforts are focused on improving conditions on ordinary public lands that are supposed to be managed for multiple uses, but increasingly aren’t. And despite rhetoric to the contrary, it is exactly that simple.
HOW IT WOULD WORK: We are pursuing concepts for a federal bill that would provide a 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. Existing valid rights and uses would be honored and special safeguards would be built in to preserve public access routes. Finally, transferred lands would be administered in a manner that is consistent with each county’s resource management plan. Such parameters would ensure no loss of public access while allowing State and local citizens to have a meaningful role in policy decisions.
In addition, an equitable revenue-sharing arrangement between the State and counties is proposed so a large portion of any profits from mineral royalties, timber receipts, or grazing fees would stay with the county to help fund things like local roads, crime control, ambulance, fire departments, and other public services. The State’s share of proceeds could be used to support schools, highways, healthcare or other public programs anywhere in the State. Proceeds would be calculated after management costs are factored in, including setting aside adequate funds for a firefighting reserve account. There would be no requirement to maximize profits like there are with school trust lands, so use fees could be very reasonable.
Based on historic evidence, states typically generate land management revenues that exceed management costs. So YES, States can afford it –as long as they don’t repeat Washington DC’s ‘Lock It Up & Let it Burn’ mistakes.
In fact, one of the biggest cost-saving advantages of shifting from federal to State-based 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 typically put wildfires out quickly, before they get out of control.
Federal land managers, on the other hand, are increasingly hamstrung by a growing myriad of federal regulations that prevent cost-effective management and result in massively expensive wildfires and lawsuits every year.
It will take work, but real corrections in how our public lands are managed are worth the effort. State management could open doors for badly needed jobs, while keeping public access open, increasing revenues for local governments, improving wildlife habitat, 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 free the lands from distant, unaccountable federal bureaucracies so we can restore balance and tend our public lands wisely for the betterment of our communities, our environment, our States, and ultimately our nation as a whole.
ALC’s complete Public Policy Statement can be downloaded at http://www.americanlandscouncil.org/policy_statements
Complete information is online at www.AmericanLandsCouncil.org. Questions can be emailed to: Info@AmericanLandsCouncil.org or call (801) 252-6622.
Jennifer Fielder, CEO
The American Lands Council
859 W. South Jordan Pkwy Suite 100, South Jordan, UT
Jennifer Fielder is a Montana State Senator and volunteers as CEO of the American Lands Council – a national nonprofit association of elected officials, resource experts, and citizens. She served as presiding officer at this year’s 2016 ALC Annual Conference.