Development Access On Public Lands

On Monday the Bush Administration announced a reversal of a Clinton Administration restriction on development on federal lands. According to this New York Times article from Monday,

The Bush administration on Monday proposed scuttling a Clinton-era rule that put nearly 60 million acres of national forest largely off limits to logging, mining or other development in favor of a new system that would leave it to governors to seek greater – or fewer – strictures on road construction in forests.

Before the histrionics start from so-called environmentalists, look at that statement. The federal government is making a policy change to enable states (i.e. governors) to decide on the amount of road-building that is appropriate in the national forests that exist in their state. They may choose more, they may choose less.

In fact, I’ve already seen headlines on this item decrying the demise of forests, paying little attention to the fact that some states may choose to be even more restrictive on road building than the federal government has been.

In fact, I find one of the quotes in the NYT article very telling:

A spectrum of environmental groups reacted with disappointment and outrage to the announcement.

“This doesn’t ensure that a single acre of roadless area gets protected,” said Marty Hayden, legislative director for Earthjustice, one of several groups that are defending the Clinton rule in federal court.

“Everything could be up for grabs,” Mr. Hayden said.

Guaranteed outcomes. Known results. Control and manage to get the fixed, unchanging world of the happy modern primitive.

When in life are there ever such ironclad guarantees? And even if we could achieve them, are they really desirable? Such statements as this show a failure to incorporate or acknowledge the opportunity costs that arise from achieving this “ensured protection”.

Then notice the reaction of two governors (in the West, even) to the policy change:

Montana’s governor, Judy Martz, a Republican, said in a statement, “The president has again proven that he and his administration understand that state, tribal, and local governments are best equipped to make key decisions about the future of our public lands.”

But in a conference call with reporters, New Mexico’s governor, Bill Richardson, a Democrat and energy secretary under Mr. Clinton, said, “These are areas that the federal government should manage consistently from state to state.”

I agree with Governor Martz on this one (of course; she’s making the local knowledge argument), and disagree with Governor Richardson. Why does the federal government have to manage road access to national forests consistently from state to state? The national forests across the country are vastly diverse, both in content and in situation. Treating them with the same policy would suit some and not suit others. Better to let representatives who are closer to the people who get the most use (of all kinds) and enjoyment out of the forests decide.

Better yet, sell national forests. Then we won’t have these conflicts. If a private conservation organization buys a forest and doesn’t build roads, that’s their choice. Oh, I forgot, we want absolute guarantees that every inch of currently roadless forest will remain that way ad infinitum. Sorry, I thought I was living in a dynamic universe …


4 thoughts on “Development Access On Public Lands

  1. Consider when the copper kings ran Montana. They exploited the Butte area and left a huge mess that will not recover for many generations. Would the governor or the state government stop them? Of course not, they were bought and sold by the copper kings. There are somethings that are above and beyond the local interest.

  2. Consider when the copper kings ran Montana. They exploited the Butte area and left a huge mess that will not recover for many generations. Would the governor or the state government stop them? Of course not, they were bought and sold by the copper kings. There are somethings that are above and beyond the local interest.

  3. I’m not going to pretend to know where the answer lies here but let’s consider that most National Parks were either never owned by the states to begin with or were purchased long ago.

    Essentially you are advocating that an entity (state governors) manage something they have no direct ownership in. If private property theories tell us anything its that red flags should be raised whenever someone is managing something where they have no direct ownership interest. Will the states manage the land for the sake of the land or the sake of the economic intersts around the land?

    This is not to say that Feds are unquestionable, they certainly are. I’m just saying we have matured past the phase where we thought ‘local gov’t’ could do no evil.

  4. –>This is not to say that Feds are unquestionable, they certainly are. I’m just saying we have matured past the phase where we thought ‘local gov’t’ could do no evil.

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