Attack on Public Lands

Attack on Public Lands
by Phillip Carter


With both the House and the Senate belonging to the Republican majority, the opportunity for the Trump Administration to expand U.S. energy extraction and make well on their promise of rolling back “job-killing” regulations has arisen. Action has already been taken to expedite the process of transferring public lands to the states. House Republicans recently changed the way Congress calculates the cost of transferring federal lands to the states and other entities, a move that will allow Congress to essentially ignore any potential loss in revenue resulting from federal land transfers.[1] Additionally, on March 7th, the Senate revoked the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Planning 2.0 rule, a rule that was finalized by the Obama Administration in December of 2016, which aimed to give the public more input into federal land management decisions and to make the BLM process more transparent. Furthermore, the Senate’s use of the Congressional Review Act (CRA) prevents the BLM from introducing any ‘new rule that is substantially the same’, forcing the BLM to operate under the prior planning rule which is over three decades old.[2] This decision is particularly puzzling when one considers the growing faction of Republican lawmakers , including House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah), who assert that handing over authority of public lands to the states will result in a more responsive relationship with local residents.[3]

While both Democrats and Republicans believe increasing community involvement in public lands is a necessity, Congressional Republicans have made it clear that their motivation underlying recent rulings is purely for economic gain at the expense of the longevity of America’s unique ecosystems. Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), the largest National Wildlife Refuge in the country, has been targeted by the GOP for its estimated 7.7 billion barrels of untapped oil reserves.[4] Despite increasing public awareness of climate change and the resulting fragility of arctic ecosystems, both the House and the Senate recently voted to overturn a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule regarding predator control in national wildlife refuges. The rule specifically forbade the baiting, trapping and “denning” of bears and wolves in ANWR. Alaskan politicians hope this bill will lead to increases in moose and caribou populations for the purpose of attracting more hunters to the refuge.[5]

Ironically, what Alaskan lawmakers believe will benefit their state’s economy may actually damage it. Tourism is Alaska’s greatest resource, second only to oil.[6] In fact, according to Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game, those who visit Alaska’s national wildlife refuges to observe the wildlife bring in more money than hunting does.[7]

Even still, is the transfer of federal lands to state and local authorities more beneficial to local residents than if those lands were to remain under federal ownership? According to Headwaters Economics, rural counties in the western U.S. with National Parks, Monuments, or other permanent protections on federal land exhibit above average rates of job growth and are correlated with higher levels of per capita income.[8] Moreover, in 2014, western non-metro counties had a per capita income that was $436 higher for every 10,000 acres of public land within their boundaries.[9] This increase in performance for western rural counties is largely attributed to the recreational opportunities, natural amenities, and scenic backgrounds the West has to offer. Subsequently, these counties begin to attract a skilled workforce from a range of industries in what is referred to as amenity migration.

An attack on public lands is an attack on the rights of all Americans. The recent rulings and rollbacks enacted by Congress and the Trump Administration reveal how little the majority lawmakers value public lands. It is imperative that future land management decisions be more scientific-based, comprising of both an economic and an environmental understanding of the impacts on the local ecosystem and adjacent communities.

Andrew comment:
Interesting perspective on changing policies in public land. I think your last paragraph especially illustrates your point because it emphasizes the benefits of federal vs. state owned lands. I had no idea lands being designated “federal” would make such a difference in job creation, tourism, etc. I agree with you that the states may also think something is good for their lands when it actually may not be. Good job tying Alaska’s situation from class into your blog, it gives a good perspective on the situation.

[1] Eilperin, Juliet. “House GOP Rules Change Will Make It Easier to Sell off Federal Land.” The Washington Post. WP Company, 03 Jan. 2017. Web. 02 Apr. 2017. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/01/03/house-gop-rules-change-would-make-it-easier-to-sell-off-federal-land/>.

[2] March 07, 2017 Bobby McEnaney. “Congress Kills BLM’s Planning 2.0 Rule.” NRDC. N.p., 08 Mar. 2017. Web. 02 Apr. 2017. <https://www.nrdc.org/experts/bobby-mcenaney/congress-kills-blms-planning-20-rule>.

[3] Eilperin, Juliet. “House GOP Rules Change Will Make It Easier to Sell off Federal Land.” The Washington Post. WP Company, 03 Jan. 2017. Web. 02 Apr. 2017. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/01/03/house-gop-rules-change-would-make-it-easier-to-sell-off-federal-land/>.

[4] Freudenrich, Ph.D. Craig. “How ANWR Works.” HowStuffWorks Science. HowStuffWorks, 19 Nov. 2008. Web. 03 Apr. 2017. <http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/energy/anwr1.htm>.

[5] Parker, Kathleen. “No Defense for House Joint Resolution 69.” Sun Journal. N.p., 15 Mar. 2017. Web. 02 Apr. 2017. <http://www.sunjournal.com/news/columns-analysis/2017/03/15/no-defense-house-joint-resolution-69/2093839>.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] “Protected Lands and Economics: A Summary of Research and Careful Analysis on the Economic Impact of Protected Federal Land.” Headwaters Economics (2016).

[9] Ibid.