Kevin Copeland: Create public land trusts
October 3, 2016
For Paul Bonnifield in his letter to the editor "Public lands important" to chastise Donald Trump, Jr. for "either not being aware of the depth and complexity of the issue or being a master of saying nothing and sounding as if he's saying everything,” illustrates the proverbial pot calling the kettle black (I hope that is politically correct for some of you).
Mr. Bonnifield mentioned tourism, agriculture and personal enjoyment but conveniently failed to also include the importance of traditional energy resources in our federal land portfolio.
Federal lands are important to all of us. Aside from a few million acres managed by the Department of Defense, the federal government owns 650 million acres of natural resource lands, with 90 percent of national parks and 99 percent of BLM acres located in 12 western states.
Nearly everyone agrees that federal lands are badly managed, and the inability of the federal government to intelligently manage public lands can best be addressed by getting politics out of land management. While that would mean privatization to many, it can also be achieved by creating public land trusts.
Properly designed, trusts have proven resistant to political interference and provide all users with ways to protect the resources we all care about.
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Instead, the muckraking liberal press delights in finding examples of land “swindles” in which wealthy people or companies acquired federal or state land illegally.
On the contrary, there are significant interests that would oppose any attempts by states to reduce the size of the of their land bases should the states acquire these federal lands. These interests include schools, municipalities and county governments that earn royalties used to improve local infrastructures. Hunting and fishing enthusiasts and the business that rely on one another would also benefit by keeping the decisions and monies locally in order to improve wildlife habitat and economies.
Another advantage is that state land management generates less environmental controversy than federal management in that federal management is more visible, and federal managers have more bureaucracy to muddle through for approvals, consequently leaving them highly responsive to criticism.
Environmentalists and others find it easier to challenge the federal government. By comparison, state and local managers are more dominate-use oriented and less responsive to outside interest groups and their agendas, thereby prioritizing local interests.
Properly designed trusts have proven resistant to political interference and provide all users ways to protect the resources they care about.
Trust fund managers should be funded out of their income, not gross income or tax dollars. They should charge fair market prices for what it takes to properly care for the resources they manage, minimizing political attempts to favor constituents in the form of resources at less than market value thus ensuring a level playing field of all resource users to compete, rather than relying on the courts or political system.
Land trusts may not be an entirely perfect system, no system is. But state and local land resource management has been shown that some of the best managed lands are those managed within the trust framework. Adopting that frame work can improve the fiscal and environmental management of our federal lands.
Don't let misleading political ads, proclaiming land grabs by special out-of-state interests and loss of public lands sway you when voting. This administration and it's want-to-be predecessors need you to believe they have your best interest at heart. Learn the facts before you vote.
Unfortunately, the bigger the federal government gets the more it's going to cost. Care to guess who's shoulder that will fall on?