Monday, October 15, 2012

Public lands... Our Birthright

Enjoying our birthright.
We're not all born into wealth--the Oligarchy is called the Oligarchy for a reason. But, as Americans, we do have a few birthrights ... a few intact benefits that come with citizenship.

Our country's vast network of public lands is the envy of the world--no other nation bestows upon its citizens the free-and-clear ownership of real property. Sure, it comes with stipulations--it belongs to all of us, so a mutual respect for the resource is necessary and largely understood. But it's ours. We can step foot upon it any time we wish. We can spend weeks on it without paying a dime. We can hunt, fish and gather. We can extract from it, hopefully in moderation.

It's ours. Our birthright.

But there are efforts afoot to change that. Already, the Utah Legislature has demanded control over federally owned land within its boundaries, and other western states are considering the same thing. In Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Arizona, extremist politicians are making waves, demanding state control over federal land, and proposals are in place that would allow states to sell as much as 5 percent of their public lands to private interests to fund education.

The latter proposal is gaining traction as America's students continue to fall behind other global powers when it comes to education. And this is despite taxpayer support for education that is unequaled on the planet. The idea that selling public lands to pay for education (and to give taxpayers a break) simply changes the source of the cash--for a finite period, mind you. It does nothing to really address education.

U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop said just last week that royalties from public lands in Utah aren't enough to appropriately fund public education, and that state management of public lands is the answer--and state management likely means selling hunks of our public land to private interests to raise quick money. Selling public land is the least-creative method to increase education funding there is. It's a one-time, short-term boon to government bank accounts. That's it.

You want to get creative? Then work with the feds to up those royalties ... to demand market value for oil and gas leases, wind and solar leases, logging permits, mining permits and the like. Charge user fees for high-impact recreational uses, like off-road vehicle use or dispersed camping--we should consider such fees our "time share" maintenance dues. Or end the subsidies and the tax breaks for billion-dollar companies that trash public lands while extracting energy and minerals from beneath it. Selling it off? Would you sell stock in a company for pennies on the dollar when so much growth potential exists? Would you collect a short fortune now, or tall fortune in perpetuity?

Remember, too, that the outdoor recreation industry has a significant impact on the economy--and, particularly here in the West, access to the abundance of public land is the financial heartbeat of that sector.

'Our public-land policy has for its aim the use of the public land so that it will promote local development by the settlement of home makers; the policy we champion is to serve all the people legitimately and openly, instead of permitting the lands to be converted, illegitimately and under cover, to the private benefit of a few. Our forest policy was established so that we might use the public forests for the permanent public good, instead of merely for temporary private gain.'

- President Theodore Roosevelt, Jan. 22, 1909

Unfortunately, Bishop's not alone in this short-sighted and irresponsible plan to rid the government of publicly owned land--the Wyoming Legislature could consider a similar demand of the government during its coming session, and radical lawmakers from all over the West are taking up the torch. Call it a revitalized Sagebrush Rebellion if you like, but it amounts to a land grab, a rebellion of the establishment, not from it. And if the states get their hands on federal land, the first inclination will be to sell it out from under us to pay for this, that or the other thing. And who do you think will buy this land? Chalk another one up for the Oligarchy.

It's not their land. It belongs to every single American, by right-of-birth (thank you, again, Teddy Roosevelt). As an angler and a hunter--and a father who values time outdoors with my kids in places where they can explore and experience the wonders of this world without being beholden to some lord of the manor--I take my responsibility as a public landowner seriously.

And so did my grandparents, who introduced me and my brothers and cousins to the outdoors--they taught us the basics, and let us explore. They valued the places we visited as much as they valued the land on which their homes stood. The connections they forged with these places was every bit as intimate as the connections they had to the brick and mortar of their houses themselves. They loved the campsites and the rivers and the vistas--and the journeys to get to all of them. They taught us to appreciate them, too.

These are values my kids will one day share with theirs, if I have anything to say about it. They'll appreciate their birthright, and like me, they'll work to make sure it stays intact.

As some of the more "American" goals (like an affordable, high-quality education, home ownership and upward mobility) become less attainable thanks to the gap between the rich and the rest of us, the ownership of public land mustn't become the next casualty of our country's eroding social structure. It must not be put up for sale to industry or "disposed of" to make one-time dents in state budgets.

Remember, it's our land. We have a say, and it's time we used it.

You can sell my birthright ... when you drag my corpse from it. Got it?


  1. I have been reading your blog for a while but have never posted and while I truly believe our country would be better off if the states controlled more of their own destiny, I still couldnt agree with you more allowing the states to sell off their public lands for a quick buck is a travesty and its shamefull that its even being brought up as an option. great job on bringing this problem to your readership.

  2. Thanks very much... I, too, believe the government is a bit intrusive, but when it comes to the land that belongs to every single American, I'm adamantly opposed to states even suggesting a liquidation sale. I appreciate you stopping by. Thanks again.

  3. Great post. I truly hope that none of this happens. You can't fix education with money... those types of simplistic problems are really things of the past. Every classroom in American probably has multiple computers, internet access, plenty of teaching resources, and comfortable air conditioning. What more can money really buy? I've been a public school teacher, and I think the real root of the problem in American public education is the lack of value put on education by the children (students)... and their parents and families. Facebook, iPhones, video games, the internet, crap on TV, and material things (clothes, shoes, cars, etc.) are all far more important than actual learning. Kids can't even write anymore thanks to instant messaging and more recently texting... and what's even worse is their parents don't seem to care. As long as their kid has the latest in fashion and technology, they think they're good parents... and this transcends all lines of social classes from the poor to upper middle class... and a bunch of the wealthy too. I've personally seen this from parents who are educated themselves and it is truly shocking... and sad.
    Also, I prefer the term plutocracy over oligarchy because it refers to the wealthy who are in control, not just the few. Just my two cents.

    1. Thanks Jay... nice term, Plutocracy ... seems you're still a good teacher ;)

  4. The notion of 'State's Rights' has become something of a shibboleth to the political right, like the tea party, and a idea the political left has become wary of. To oppose it seems to mean that one is in favor of 'big government'. And that is the kiss of death in politics.
    I would suggest that there are times when we are individual states, and times when we are a nation. States that are consistently to the right rail against 'big government', like Texas. Texas receives each year hundreds of millions in federal aid. May we have it back, please?
    Let's look at a few things the federal government does and has done. National Parks, Wilderness Areas, the highways to get there, the staff that lets it function. Shall we give Yellowstone to Wyoming? Like the thought of mining and drilling in the Lamar Valley?
    At some point we should stop cowering and cringing when someone brings up the notion that all government is bad, and nodding our head. The notion that individual states should be able to do whatever then want is simply a bad one.

    1. Couldn't agree more... it amount to politics of convenience, and it's being pushed by legislators who are bought and paid for by those who would benefit from most from an eroding public lands system. Thanks for the comments.

  5. As a citizen of one of the original colonies, I'm fine with selling off western public lands (and the private lands too) as long as all that money flows back to thems that bought em in the first place. I'm sure France and the Spain would take those lands back at a neat profit for us colonists. Enough of western usurpers demanding "our" land. All those folks out west are at best homesteadin' squatters and some are worse. Run 'em off I say!

    On a more serious note: WTF! Talk about living off the largesse of the federal government. Sounds like incompetent boobs at the state level can't keep their houses in order so they want to annex their neighbors house, sell it, and use that to pay the mortgage. This is the ultimate federal welfare check.

  6. "This is the ultimate federal welfare check" for a group of politicians who are doing their best to "end federal welfare." The irony is not lost on me, nor is it on you. Just on the folks who are demanding what amounts to "something for nothing." Or... ahem... a "handout."

    Thanks Steve...

  7. Great and necessary post...I hope more people will wake up to the fact that public lands are ALWAYS under one threat or another and that they require constant attention and protection. Once they lost they will never be recovered or at least brought back to their original state. I always find the shortsightedness of people to be amazing. those lands are far more valuable as they are then they will ever be buy selling them off.