WASHINGTON, D.C. — Chairman of the Federal Lands Action Group, Rep. Chris Stewart, and Chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, Rep. Rob Bishop, Tuesday hosted a forum at 1300 Longworth House Office Building in the District of Columbia, the first in a series of forums aimed at exploring historical precedents and best practices with regard to public land management and ownership.
“It’s curious that for so long it has been clear to us in the West that the federal government does a lousy job managing public lands, and yet this misperception persists that the feds are the best ones to continue owning and managing the federal estate,” Stewart said in his opening remarks. “Our purpose is to first clear up that myth and then discuss some of the innovative ways we can move decision-making authority and improve management.”
The forum included witnesses from the academic, legal and natural resource sectors, who presented testimony and answered questions from members of Congress in the action group.
Members and witnesses also discussed the merits of a variety of options, including charter forests, public land trusts, state or local government contracted management and shifting actual land ownership to states, among other ideas.
During questioning, Bishop said, “It’s not because the federal managers are malevolent or incompetent, they just have too damn much land to manage. It’s too big to succeed. It’s not too large to fail, it’s too large to succeed.”
- Robert Nelson | professor at University of Maryland
- “In recent years, it has often been state governments, not the federal government, that have taken the key leadership roles in American government efforts to deal with pressing domestic policy problems and issues,” Nelson said. “With a greater state role, there would likely be differences in land management approaches from one state to another, appropriately reflecting their diverse state circumstances, as compared with the current one-size-fits-all federal system.” See full testimony here
- Elwood Miller | professor emeritus at University of Nevada
- “Land and resource management from the bench has had a debilitating effect on the morale of agency personnel and instituted a culture that favors modification of needed treatment to avoid legal challenge,” Miller said. See full testimony here
- Glade Hall | counsel at Huthison and Steffen
- “It is a patent absurdity to assert that such full powers of governance cover 87 percent of the land surface of a state of the Union and at the same time assert that such state has been admitted to the Union on an equal footing with the original states in every respect whatever,” Hall said. See full testimony here
- Greg Walcher | president of the Natural Resources Group
- “The federal government simply does not trust state and local governments not to destroy public resources, as if people have a self-interest in destroying their own backyards,” Walcher said. “The federal and state governments both represent the public, and they both have legal ability to preserve the environment. Both have legal protections for endangered species, clean air and water and other environmental values. Both have strong enforcement abilities, and both care deeply about protecting such special places. Yet the federal government consistently refuses to acknowledge and value of state and local cooperative efforts.” See full testimony here
Public lands in Utah
Around 65 percent of Utah’s lands – 31 million acres worth – is managed by the federal government. In 2012, Gov. Gary Herbert signed the “Transfer of Public Lands Act” that called on the federal government to transfer all public lands management within the state – minus national parks and monuments with the exception of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
A deadline of Dec. 31, 2014 was set for lands management to be given to Utah that came and went. The state has currently set aside $2 million for a possible legal battle over the matter.
Proponents of transferring management of the public lands argue the states can manage the lands better than the federal bureaucracies based out of Washington, D.C., and that the state could greatly benefit from local control. Parties opposed to state-control of public lands see it differently.
The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and others have long argued the state doesn’t have the proper resources to manage its public lands. They have also said the state has no rightful claim to the land, and that Utah’s attempt at a so-called “land grab” is unconstitutional.
St. George News Senior Reporter Mori Kessler contributed to this report.
- Stewart, Bishop launch group aiming to get state control of public lands
- Herbert delivers State of the States, meets with Obama; proposes ‘Healthy Utah,’ public lands management
- Deadline for public lands transfer passes, state considers litigation
- Economic study: Utah could benefit from managing public lands