This Land is [Government] Land

Posted in Politics
Fri, Feb 6 - 9:00 am EDT | 2 years ago by
Comments: 0
Be Sociable, Share!
    Use Arrow Keys (← →) to Browse

    Free Radical - Government Land

    Grade school children are typically taught Woody Guthrie’s folk song “This Land Is Your Land.” The catchy ditty’s modern form omits several political verses reflecting the writer’s communist leanings. What remains are verses with sweet, if rather generic, descriptions of American geography that end with the refrain, “This land was made for you and me.” But while this land may have been made for you and me, it’s increasingly owned and controlled by the federal government.

    The federal government today owns or manages about 650 millions acres, or around 30% of all land area in the United States. Even excluding Indian lands, that’s still more than the combined areas of France, Spain, Germany, Poland, Italy, the United Kingdom, Austria, Switzerland, Netherlands, and Belgium. Most federally owned land is located in the western U.S., where there are multiple states where more than half of the area within their borders belongs to the federal government. The most extreme case is Nevada, with almost 85% of the state actually being federal property.

    The American people are being denied the full benefits of these lands, much of which has been grossly mismanaged, or contains natural resources locked away from development and use. It’s time to return it to the people. As much as possible should be sold off to pay down the debt, while what remains should be turned over to state and local governments more closely accountable to citizens.

    It’s true that some of this land is accessible to the public for personal enjoyment, though the National Park Service manages only 12% of federal land. More falls under the Bureau of Land Management (37%), the Forest Service (28%) and the Fish and Wildlife Service (14%). But even with parks ostensibly held for public enjoyment, government caretakers seem to treat the public with contempt. This was in evidence during 2013′s quasi-government shutdown (where most federal workers kept working and, measured by spending, amounted to about 17% of government activities actually shuttered).

    In a clear effort by the administration to spite the public, the National Park Service sought during the shutdown to close off everything in sight regardless of whether it was necessary or they had authority to do so. This included a number of private businesses operating without federal support.

    Parks like the Claude Moore Colonial Farm that operate on public land but are privately run and funded were left alone during previous shutdowns, but were targeted for closure by a petty and vindictive Obama administration. The Farm’s Managing Director noted, “in previous budget dramas, the farm has always been exempted, since the NPS provides no staff or resources to operate the farm. But this year, NPS went out of its way to shut down the farm.” Worst of all, she faulted the government that used “staff they don’t have the money to pay to evict visitors from a park site that operates without costing them any money.”

    I personally witnessed similar mind-boggling and asinine actions. The George Washington Parkway that runs along the Potomac River features periodic pull off zones for the public to enjoy the scenic view. These are really nothing more than parking lots along the road, and they require no staffing. So naturally, during the shutdown NPS blocked them off. They literally shutdown parking spaces.

    NPS politicization is nothing new. In 1969 the agency led to the coining of the phrase “Washington Monument Strategy,” when it shut down the elevator to the Washington Monument to bully Congress into restoring budget cuts.

    A government that uses its resources to inflict pain on the public as leverage for partisan political purposes has no business being left in charge of such resources.

    It’s not just what happened during the shutdown that suggests a problem, however. Federal mismanagement runs much deeper and promotes inefficiencies. The Bureau of Land Management has encouraged over grazing through below market fees. Worse, Fish and Wildlife (FWS) is tasked with monitoring endangered species, but some of these species are only threatened because of the actions of FWS. The black-footed ferret was endangered after FWS spent decades poisoning millions of prairie dogs, their primary food source.

    Likewise, FWS claims as a success the restoration of the Utah prairie dog, which FWS was actively poisoning right up until its listing as an endangered species. Once the poisoning stopped, their status miraculously improved. The bull trout was similarly listed as threatened after FWS-funded programs actively poisoned the trout to encourage non-native species more attractive to anglers. In response to the listing, FWS began poisoning those same non-native species to reintroduce the bull trout. All that’s missing from this comical display of ineptitude are competing Orwellian declarations that FWS has always been at war with either the non-native species or the bull trout, depending on which it is poisoning at the time.

    The grossest display of federal incompetence may be in wildfire control. The Forest Service’s one-size-fits-all approach and overall mismanagement contributes to estimates that 190 million acres are at risk of catastrophic fires, leading to what UC Berkeley fire scientist Scott Stephens calls “a train-wreck.” Thanks to pressure from environmental groups and onerous regulations, there’s too little logging and too much brush, which provides fuel for megafires.

    The government’s approach to land management also has a real impact on the pocket books of average Americans.

    The relative lack of oil production on federal lands, for instance, has ripples through the economy. Energy is needed for most every stage of the production process — from raw materials collection, to manufacturing, to delivery — and high energy prices are reflected in the final costs of goods which Americans rely upon for a high standard of living.

    The relief that Americans have seen at the gas pumps in recent months thanks to technological developments allowing for profitable extraction of once inaccessible shale could likewise have been much more significant, or come sooner. Almost all of the growth in production has come from private lands, while misguided prohibitions, horribly slow permitting processes, and endless red tape prevent further development on federal lands, even where environmental concerns are low or non-existent.

    Even today the Obama administration is angling to squirrel away 12 million more acres from the people by expanding environmental prohibitions on drilling in Alaska. Expanded energy exploration has strong bipartisan support in Alaska, where both the risks and benefits are most concentrated. But spurred on by extreme environmental groups, Obama asserts he knows better than those closest to the issue.

    Yet the evidence is clear: the federal government doesn’t know best. It’s track record on land management is poor. It should be divesting property rather than acquiring more.

    There are obviously a lot of magnificent natural treasures within the United States that deserve to be preserved for public enjoyment. But those that are truly valued by the public are capable of receiving voluntary support, and need not rely on coercive tax transfers.

    We see that happening already. Many parks and historic sites are managed privately today, operated by nonprofits that rely on philanthropic contributions. This includes the historic site of Mount Vernon, home to George Washington, the nation’s first President and Founding Father who warned repeatedly against the abuses of government and the never ending desire for power of those who hold office. More parks and attractions should follow this model. Other land can be shifted to local and state control where there is greater accountability and public wishes are more likely to be accurately reflected, or sold off to those better prepared and incentivized to provide for its care.

    Brian Garst is a political scientist, commentator, and advocate for free markets and individual liberty. He also blogs at BrianGarst.com and you can find him on Twitter @BrianGarst.

    Keep up with the best of Free Radical below. Click through the gallery to read more from Brian Garst.


    Election 2016

    Garst writes about the presidential election and the impact of Donald Trump's authoritarian moment.

    Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

    Sharing Economy

    Brian Garst discusses why the Left should fear the sharing economy.

    Photo by Adam Berry/Getty Images

    Censorship

    The right to be forgotten is censorship by another name.

    Photo by BartekSzewczyk / Getty Images

    Pope Francis

    Brian Garst explores why the pope needs a glass of STFU.

    Photo by Vatican Pool/Getty Images

    Reining in Abusive Prosecutors

    We need to acknowledge the role that unaccountable and out of control prosecutors play in contributing to the system’s worst failures and abuses.

    Private Lives in a Digital Age

    If society is going to survive in this new age, it may need to learn how to forget, or at the very least, to pretend like it didn’t notice. Read more...

    Photo by Bartłomiej Szewczyk / Getty Images

    SCOTUS

    Why do Republicans suck at picking Supreme Court justices?

    Title IX

    Garst sounds off on how Title IX became an abomination.

    Amtrak

    Garst explores why Amtrak is a government failure.

    Robot Workers

    Don't worry, the robots are not going to take away all the good jobs.

    Taxes

    Brian Garst explores why you aren't supposed to understand the tax code.

    King v. Burwell

    Brian Garst talks about the fact that there's much more at stake than just Obamacare.

    Online Gaming

    Republicans captured by billionaire have abandoned principle to stop online poker.

    Dwindling Rights

    Brian Garst discusses one of our many dwindling rights in this country -- the right to earn a living.

    Government Theft

    You would think the idea that government shouldn’t steal would be as uncontroversial as the notion that citizens shouldn’t steal. Alas, it is not. Can we put an end to government theft?

    Also read: This Land is [Government] Land.

    Carbon Tax

    Many on the Right are talking now about instituting a carbon tax. If Republicans all hate taxes, then what gives? Read about conservatives and the carbon tax.

    Gridlock

    Everyone complains when Congress doesn't meet some arbitrary threshold of activity, but gridlock isn't necessarily a bad thing.

    Rape Culture

    EveryJoe columnist Brian Garst believes that the moral panic of "rape culture" is a threat to liberty.

    Ideological Surrender

    EveryJoe columnist Brian Garst discusses how Republican failure to reform the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) would be ideological surrender.

    Net Neutrality

    While some people think net neutrality is a positive thing, Brian Garst believes that government-imposed net neutrality would choke the internet.

    Criminal Justice Reform

    Recognition of serious problems in the criminal justice system spans the ideological spectrum -- Left, Right and in between. Read about why and how criminal justice reform may define the 114th Congress.
    Use Arrow Keys (← →) to Browse

    Be Sociable, Share!

      Related Posts

      Be Sociable, Share!