New National Monument Created in Maine’s North Woods

New National Monument Created in Maine’s North Woods

The new Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is the 413th preserved area in the Park Service and the second national monument to have been designated in the state (after Acadia National Park’s precursor). It sits east of Baxter State Park in north-central Maine, more than 200 miles north of Portland.

The land was donated to the federal government this week by Elliotsville Plantation, Inc., a nonprofit foundation started by Roxanne Quimby, the co-founder of the Burt’s Bees line of natural products. The foundation also says it is creating an endowment to help cover maintenance expenses in the monument.

By Brian Clark Howard/National Geographic

Viewpoint: States Should Take Control Of Our Outmoded Public Land System

States should take control of our outmoded public land system

Robert Nelson, University of Maryland

Late last month the Senate passed a non-binding budget resolution that encourages the selling or transfer of federal lands to state and local governments. With a Republican Congress, the longstanding question over federal management of public lands is resurfacing once again with renewed urgency.

The federal government owns large parts of the forests, deserts and other rural areas of the American West – in total around half of all the land in the Rocky Mountain and Pacific Coast states. Roughly 30% of federal lands are made up of wilderness and national parks, while the rest are used for timber harvesting, grazing, energy leasing and recreation.

This pervasive federal presence is a product of policies championed at the turn of the 20th century.

Throughout the nineteenth century, however, the government aggressively disposed of its land holdings to private landowners and state governments, seeking to advance economic development and the pursuit of “manifest destiny.” It was in the period from 1890 to 1920 that American Progressives successfully argued that these lands would be more expertly managed in federal hands.

After more than 100 years of experience, we now know otherwise, that these lands would be better under state or private management. It’s a lesson I learned well during almost two decades at the Department of the Interior working as a policy analyst in the Office of the Secretary.

Instead of much greater efficiency, the research conducted by myself and others has shown that federal management turned out to be wasteful – typical of many government-owned enterprises around the world over the course of the 20th century – as well as detrimental to the land itself.

High costs, poor return

Federal “multiple-use” lands (excluding national parks and other special use lands) averaged US$7.2 billion in costs per year from 2009 to 2013, according to a recent report from the Property and Environmental Research Center (PERC), a non-profit think tank that seeks market solutions to environmental problems. At the same time they brought in just $5.3 billion in revenues (mostly royalties from oil, gas and coal leases in a few energy rich states).

Over the same period, similar state-owned lands returned $14.5 for every dollar spent on management while achieving comparable or better land results in areas such as the use of forest and rangeland resources.

Because public land costs are such a tiny part of the immense federal budget, the issue seldom receives close scrutiny, relieving pressure on the government to manage its lands more efficiently. And since all taxpayers bear the costs, states themselves have little incentive to put pressure on federal managers to raise revenues or reduce expenses.

Layers of red tape

Even if they wanted to, it would be difficult for federal land managers to bring their expert skills to bear. Over the years, layer upon layer of requirements for environmental impact statements, land use plans and other regulatory and procedural steps have created a suffocating burden of red tape.

In 2002 in The Process Predicament, the US Forest Service begged for relief, declaring that ““unfortunately, the Forest Service operates within a statutory, regulatory and administrative framework that has kept the agency from effectively addressing rapid declines in forest health.”

Poorly managed western forests, for example, had become overstocked with large volumes of “excess fuels.” From the 1980s onwards, these dead trees and limbs increasingly erupted into large, environmentally damaging conflagrations, requiring billions of dollars to be spent annually on forest fire suppression.

Beyond the executive branch, federal courts have also gotten more involved in public land use, drastically increasing their role since the 1970s and now often dictating even local management details. For example, federal judges have blocked many specific timber sales in the West, for example, to protect biodiversity.

The wasted energy opportunity

The United States has been experiencing an energy revolution in recent years owing to new methods of extracting oil and gas from shale. Because of the cumbersome federal land bureaucracy, the lack of incentives and other constraints, however, this revolution has largely bypassed the public lands.

Charles Merrill, a professor at Columbia law school, noted in the Case Western Reserve Law Review in 2013 that in “looking at a map of the United States where fracking activity is underway, and comparing it to a map showing areas of land and associated mineral rights that are controlled by the federal government,” one finds that “there is very little overlap” – and not due to any lack of oil and gas shale resources in the West.

None of this is news, admittedly. At public land conferences since the early 1990s, economists, political scientists, retired federal managers and other professionals have lamented the “dysfunctional” public land system. Yet, little has changed over that period. This is partly a consequence of the increasing partisanship and other dysfunctions that have afflicted many other areas of federal policy making and administration.

It is also, however, a result of the deep ambivalence felt by many Westerners about reducing the federal presence. The large flows of “wasted” federal money also represent an important economic asset for the rural West. Perhaps the truest statement ever made with respect to their attitudes towards the public lands is that westerners want the federal government to “go away and give us more money.”

Growing Western anger

The federal government, however, has not gone away. With the level of Western frustration growing, and the federal government increasingly strapped for funds to send to the West, pressure for change has mounted in recent years. Western states are now threatened, for example, with the designation of the sage grouse as an endangered species, an action that would put many millions of acres of Western rangeland under tight federal control.

In 2014, Utah conducted a comprehensive study of the implications of transferring ordinary public lands and their federal management costs and revenues to the state. The study showed that if Utah had replicated federal management practices in 2013, the state would have incurred $117 million in net additional costs.

Projecting these results across the full West, the fiscal benefits to the federal government could exceed $1 billion per year for transferring ordinary public lands – predominantly used for timber harvesting, livestock grazing, and hiking, hunting, fishing and other state and local recreational use, along with highly profitable energy leasing – to state ownership. National parks, wilderness areas and the other most valuable nationally owned lands would remain in federal hands.

Western states need to decide: do they want the federal government to go away or do they want the federal money?

If the West were to decide to assume greater control of its lands, states would not only be able to improve the quality of management but also do it at much lower costs and earn much higher net revenues than the federal government.

This would be possible in part because they would be free of federal judicial micro-management and the many rules and regulatory entanglements that have made effective federal management of the public lands so difficult for more than 20 years.

It’s time the US turned the page on the era of federal ownership of public lands and resumed transferring land to the states in order to raise more revenue and improve its management.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

[photo via Todd Petrie/flickr]

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan Discusses End To Homelessness

The Homeless

Secretary for Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan discussed homelessness in America on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Monday 5 February 2012.

Please watch the two segments as Shaun explains the recent successes in the Obama administration that will eventually lead to an end to homelessness by 2015. As daunting as this task seems, he stresses that this is wholly achievable. Good luck.

[photo via jamerco/Flickr]

Don’t Know What Urban Planners Do? Please See BLS…

Charrette

Many of the graduate urban planning courses I took typically started with a brief class exercise to describe urban planning and the roles of urban planners. It seemed tedious at the time. Of course, I know what urban planning was and what urban planners did.

Fast forward to me describing urban planning to one of my friends. And guess what? I failed. I froze. Describing urban planning was easy. Proving why urban planning was important was slightly more difficult, especially to someone who repeatedly asked why. I floundered in my attempts to re-articulate my descriptions in a way that person would understand.

After more failure, I gave up. Looking back, I wish I had redirected my friend to the U.S. Bureau Of Labor Statistics’ “Urban and Regional Planners” entry in its Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition (PDF).[1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, Urban and Regional Planners, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos057.htm (visited December 21, 2011).] I have not read a more concise and accurate summary of what urban planners actually do.

Urban and regional planners develop long- and short-term plans for the use of land and the growth and revitalization of urban, suburban, and rural communities and the region in which they are located.” Among the significant highlights of the entry (verbatim, emphasis mine):

  • Local governments employ about 66 percent of urban and regional planners.
  • Employment is projected to grow 19 percent, which is faster than the average.
  • Most new jobs will be in affluent, rapidly growing communities.
  • Job prospects will be best for those with a master’s degree; bachelor’s degree holders with additional skills in GIS or mapping may find entry-level positions, but advancement opportunities are limited.

20081027urbanplanner

I would be remiss if I did not mention that the employment projection was made in 2009 and is probably less accurate now given the shape of the economy and the decimation of local government budgets. Planning tends to be paid for by developer fees and without steady development (good-bye sprawl) planning and/or community development departments were trimmed to bare-bones staffing levels. Ironic, no?

[photo via Chascamp/Charles Campbell (top) | TORONTOist/Waterfront Toronto/Heritage Toronto (bottom)]