Uncle Sam: Sell that land!

Published March 1, 2000

Teddy Roosevelt, who became the nation’s 26th president following the assassination of William McKinley, has long been lionized as the man who led his troops up San Juan Hill. He was a rugged outdoorsman whose exploits set the public mood that led to the creation of the National Park system, the National Forest system, and the National Forest Service that manages it. Roosevelt became the “trust buster” who broke up the evil (read, successful) companies of the day.

Roosevelt, who established the departments of Commerce and Labor to assist him in his efforts to break up large companies, apparently knew or thought little of the free market. His trust-busting activities were based not on whether a company was illegally restraining competition, but on whether he personally considered it to be doing good or evil.

Roosevelt made an even greater error when he assumed that government would be a better steward of the land than are private individuals. His was probably an honest mistake. He loved the outdoors and, lacking the rare foresight of the founding fathers, probably thought that future bureaucrats and politicians would be good stewards of the land, while future private landowners might tend to use their land for their own selfish interests.

Since the Rough Rider’s time, numerous studies have shown private lands to be well-managed. By contrast, the politicians and bureaucrats who followed him–and the Clinton-Gore administration is certainly no exception–have used federal ownership of one-third of the country to build bureaucratic empires and amass political power, to the detriment of the land, its resources, and its people.

The administration unabashedly names new national monuments, closing land off to human activity, to appease its radical green supporters during every Presidential election year. The 1.7 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument in Utah was designated just before the 1996 election, and now three new monuments (with more in the wings) have been named in support of Al Gore’s campaign. Always, the designations have come despite the strenuous objections of residents, state and local government officials, and congressional delegations.

The nation’s National Parks have fallen into such a disastrous state of repair, new restrictions are sought against their use by the public.

A recent survey of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s wildlife refuge managers, reported by the Associated Press, found that “the nation’s 521 wildlife refuges suffer from poor leadership, inadequate staffing, and low funding.” They would seem to have a valid point. A Congressional investigation has found that Jamie Clark, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s director, has taken funds designated for state wildlife programs and held them instead, illegally, in a slush fund for pet projects and foreign countries–including Red China.

The Forest Service is an even greater disaster, and proposing even tighter control of even more land. Under the command of Mike Dombeck, a man with virtually no forestry background, and deputy Chris Wood, the Forest Service has suffered large-scale defections of its “dirt foresters,” the “on the ground and in the trenches” professional managers in our nation’s forests, according to Congressional sources.

Under Dombeck and Wood’s stewardship, logging in our National Forests has fallen by 75 percent, 90 percent in some forests. The two have orchestrated the logging cutbacks under the pretense of protecting “old-growth” forests . . . but the end result will be the forests’ demise. Trees have a natural life span. They die. For new trees to replace them they need sunlight, but the “old growth” shade stunts that growth, turning them into brush.

Under the Dombeck/Wood “no logging policy,” the only other result, which professional foresters have told us they fear most, is catastrophic forest fires, made super-hot and nearly impossible to extinguish.

The Clinton-Gore administration’s scheme to make 40 to 60 million acres of National Forest roadless will only aggravate the situation. “No roads” means no logging and no way for firefighters to get to fires.

Not incidentally, the no-logging policy has also had the effect of starving out forest communities. The loss of individual incomes is obvious. Less obvious to those who live outside forest communities is the effect on their schools. When the government took over forest lands, it removed their tax base for school funding. So Congress provided that 25 percent of Forest Service income must be returned to these communities for funding schools. As logging has been restricted, Forest Service income has plummeted . . . and so has school funding.

The federal government is not and never will be a fit manager of land. People–people with a personal, on-the-ground stake in the well-being of the land–are the best land stewards.

Uncle Sam: Sell that land. Use the money to pay down the debt, save Social Security, build a rocket that can actually land something on Mars, finance some stupid health care scheme (strike that last one). Let private owners take care of the land, as the founding fathers originally intended.