"Improving Federal Land Management: Ecology, Equity, and Economics"

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"Improving Federal Land Management: Ecology, Equity, and Economics"

By: Carl Graham
Posted on September 24, 2014 Montana Pioneer Topics:

"Improving Federal Land Management: Ecology, Equity, and Economics"

I recently learned that no Green/leftist/progressive leaders have confidence in large governmental organizations.  Who is the source of this knowledge?  It's Gus diZerega, a political scientist/theorist with a PhD from UC Berkeley.  He recently visited from California while traveling through Yellowstone.  We enjoyed several dinner conversations, mainly about progressive Green activists. While he is too savvy to share their fantasies, Gus knows and consorts with these people.  

Gus is the author of Power, Politics and Persuasion: A Theory of Democratic Self-Organization and Beyond the Burning Times: Christian and Pagan in Dialogue.”

He is well qualified to comment on Green/leftist/progressive thinking.

Gus claimed, several times and with conviction, that  Green/leftist/progressive leaders no longer trust large governmental organizations.  They finally realize that sylvan socialism and similar collectivist fantasies are destined to fail. However laudable intentions advertised when creating an agency, bureaucratic pathologies and politics ultimately trump glorious goals.  

Stanford University's Francis Fukuyama recently wrote: "The creation of the U. S. Forest Service...was the premier example of American state building during the Progressive Era....Today, however, many regard the Forest Service as a highly dysfunctional bureaucracy performing an outmoded mission with the wrong tools.....It operates under multiple and often contradictory mandates from  Congress and the courts and costs taxpayers a substantial amount of money while achieving questionable aims....If the Forest Service's creation exemplified the development of the modern American state, its decline exemplifies that state's decay."  (Foreign Affairs, September/October 2014, Volume 93, Number 5).  Unsurprisingly, the Forest Service sells timber inventory it obtained for free at a huge loss while failing to charge anything for many of its highest valued products. 

Just after Gus left, I read Carl Graham's commentary in the Montana Pioneer, “Stop with the straw men: Nobody's 'seizing' federal lands”.  At issue is the management of federal lands in western states.  

This is not a trivial matter; west of the Mississippi the feds own and manage half of the land area.  Many of those long accustomed to exploiting its natural resources; its energy, grazing, minerals, and timber, today feel disenfranchised.  Culture and political power have shifted up the social, educational, and economic gradient. 

BLM no longer stands for Bureau of Livestock and Mining but rather Better Live Minimally.  Many natives believe Green forces dominate federal land management.   Wolves are in vogue with logging, mining, and grazing ever more constrained.  

And this brings reactions, some analytical and temperate, others hysterical.  Carl Graham's is the former.  He begins with a quote from Gandhi, "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then you fight, then you win". 

My colleagues and I at Montana State University were prescient when criticizing the agencies' ecological and economic pathologies some forty years ago.  Special interests successfully resisted academic critiques.   However, truth, logic and time are powerful forces indeed.  Below is Carl Graham's analysis of today's contest. 

Carl Graham, The Montana Pioneer (September 2014)  

"Nobody’s Seizing Federal Lands"

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” Mahatma Gandhi said that, and it’s a pretty reliable barometer of political progress. The further an issue advances along Gandhi’s spectrum, the more seriously people are taking it, and the nastier the side that’s losing gets.

Based on what we’re seeing in Montana’s papers and the talking points of some political hopefuls, those of us who think states should have more control over federal lands have moved beyond being laughed at and are now happily joined in a serious fight.  Except that judging from the straw man arguments and hyperbole of those who think D.C. bureaucrats know (or even care) what’s best for the rest of us, truth has been the first casualty.

 While many of us are calling for a real discussion of costs and benefits surrounding federal lands management in the states, others are engaging in pure political marketing, trotting out poll-tested phrases designed to inflame or demonize rather than inform or engage. That’s too bad. This is serious stuff.

What most of us in the lands transfer movement actually want is pretty simple, even if the logistics of getting it are daunting. Nobody’s trying to “seize” the lands. We want an orderly transition that gives local citizens a say in what happens (and doesn’t happen) on D.C.-controlled multiple-use lands in their states. This isn’t a grab to privatize rivers, to strip-mine Yellowstone Park, or to despoil the natural legacy we inherited and want to pass on. It’s simply an attempt to use multiple-use lands in multiple ways, and to have a say in how that’s done.

So what’s some of the misinformation being passed around? First, that national parks, tribal lands or wilderness areas will be affected. They won’t be … at all. Those lands, along with monuments and military reservations, are off the table and not part of this discussion. Anyone who says otherwise is misinformed, misleading, or outside the mainstream of the federal lands transfer movement. Montana has about 27 million acres of federal lands. About 22 million acres of those lands have been designated for multiple uses since statehood but are increasingly seeing access and uses restricted by faraway bureaucrats answering to different masters. Meanwhile, we’re losing access to recreation and good-paying jobs on more of these lands each year.

Next, opponents say we can’t afford to manage lands that would be turned over to state control. Well, yes: We can’t afford to manage – or mismanage – them as the federal government does, with increased wildfire costs and waning revenues. Each state needs to do the math, but studies so far have shown states manage lands at a profit while federal agencies manage them at a loss. Montanans should be given the opportunity to at least study the issue.

Finally, opponents assert that existing rights and traditional uses on federal lands will be sacrificed at the altar of greed without presenting any evidence in the form of policy initiatives or even transfer proponent statements to back up this claim. And it’s just plain wrong. Existing rights – grazing, mineral, timber, access and more – will have to be respected as an integral part of any transfer. Just as important, so will traditional uses like hunting, fishing, hiking and more. Any other approach wouldn’t just be illegal – it would be unfair to Montanans now and into the future.

Straw men don’t hold any weight and go up in flames when held up to scrutiny. Let’s have an honest debate and stop the name-calling and misinformation. Our families and our lands deserve better.


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