This response to a Wall Streen Journal piece was originally published on this blog on 04/05/2017. I have been assuming all the costs and responsibilities of this blog, but in that effort I lost the original posting of this piece. My good friend Matt Chappell, I apologize, and for now can only offer this re-posting of your work, which I very much agree with.
A response to the article by Terry L. Anderson titled, “Utah Faces Down the Rock-Climbing Industrial Complex”
Published 04/05/2017 on DrewDittmer.com:
In light of opinion editorials and political attacks to reverse the Bear’s Ears National Monument, eliminate wilderness study areas, and transfer federal land to states and private entities, I would like to offer some insight.
First, we need to understand the designations for these federal lands and the agencies that oversee them to understand how they are managed. There is a political agenda attacking federal lands, and oftentimes their message distorts what wilderness, national monuments, national parks, and the agencies that oversee them are to further their agenda.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal by Terry L. Anderson inferred that national monuments created under the Antiquities Act by a President follow rules to “…leave the land wild for recreation while discouraging oil and gas development.” This is incorrect. A President creating a national monument does not designate wilderness—this takes an act of Congress. Typically, the reverse is true of national monuments. Hunting and fishing, outfitting, water and utility maintenance, commercial development, motorized use, mountain biking, firewood cutting, grazing, timber harvest, mining, and oil and gas development are allowed (most are prohibited in wilderness). President Obama did not create any wilderness by designating the Bear’s Ears National Monument.
A new idea infers that profits from recreation are what dictate the politics of federal land management. Recreation is undoubtedly significant, but it does not solely drive management. Habitat restoration, tribal rights, water management, and resource extraction have important seats at the table too. Furthermore, different agencies have to follow separate laws. The National Park Service is very limited in resource extraction because of the Organic Act. The U.S. Forest Service has to balance many user groups under the Multiple Use-Sustained Yield Act.
The implication that profits from the outdoor industry are an enormous subsidy that the taxpayers foot only mentions a drop in the bucket of subsidies on federal land. Most studies show the massive tax and revenue generation of outdoor recreation to the government and economy. According to the Outdoor Foundation, outdoor recreation generates 730 billion dollars into the U.S. economy and employs 6.5 million Americans.
Prodigious subsidies are attributed to the outdoor industry on federal land, but the drivers of such mendacities fail to talk about the vast subsidies given to the resource extraction industry. Billions of dollars go to grazing, timber harvest, dams, mining, and the oil and gas industry. People fail to mention what these subsidies do to markets and tax revenue to the detriment of public health and cost of cleanup.
The maintenance backlog of federal land is not a subsidy issue, but a Congressional budget issue. The National Park Service oversees the second largest amount of infrastructure in the government with a 3 billion dollar budget. Of the 19 billion dollar public land maintenance backlog, 12.5 billion of it is from the National Park Service. Only the U.S. military oversees more infrastructure. The U.S. Forest Service budget is 5.8 billion, spending 52% of it to fight the nation’s wildfires. Congress created an unsustainable situation by shrinking budgets for these agencies, refusing to adequately appropriate money for wildfire and maintenance costs. Congress has continued to let wildfire remain the only natural disaster not covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Many critical of subsidies in other industries want to implement a tax on the outdoor industry to pass on to their consumers who purchase outdoor equipment and clothing. It would be hardly fair to have one user group foot the bill for federal land management, when so many are left out. The subsidies associated with resource extraction on public land are excessive and their return to management are dismal.
Regarding fishermen and hunters, people bring up the Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson Acts in a blind attempt to justify an outdoor industry tax. They falsely equate that these national taxes getting divided up among state agencies solves any of the issues associated with federal land management. States utilize this money for hunter education programs, state public shooting ranges and boat ramps, and state conservation. They do not go to federal land management.
Americans foot the heavy subsidy bill for resource extraction on federal land. If critics truly cared about paying for federal land management, they would mention targeting extractive resource industries that receive the most in welfare with marginal returns to the people and land.
The biggest losers in public lands are the American people, not the resource extraction industry, who have profited so handsomely at everyone’s expense.
Public lands serve the people of America.