Taxpayers Paying For Mismanagement of Public Lands
As the United States struggles with budget cuts and a call for smaller government by many, especially conservatives, it’s time to put some archaic policies on the table and challenge some sacred cows. There’s a lot of room for improvement.
In the United States governmental entities including cities, counties, states, and the federal government all manage land which are referred to as either public lands or the public domain.
The majority of public lands in the United States are held in trust for the American people by the federal government and managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the United States National Park Service, the Bureau of Reclamation, or the Fish and Wildlife Service under the Department of the Interior, or by the United States Forest Service under the Department of Agriculture.
In general, Congress must legislate the creation or acquisition of new public lands, such as national parks; however, under the 1906 Antiquities Act, also known as the National Monuments Act, the President may designate new national monuments without congressional authorization if the monument is on federally-owned land.
Wilderness is a special designation for public lands which have been completely undeveloped. The concept of wilderness areas was legislatively defined by the 1964 Wilderness Act. Wilderness areas can be managed by any of the above Federal agencies, and some parks and refuges are almost entirely designated wilderness.
After American ranchers and assistants from the U. S. government eliminated wolves from most of the lower 48 in the early 1900s, taxpayers funded an impressive recovery program in Yellowstone back in the early 1990s. We spent millions of dollars over two decades restoring the natural balance. Several packs thrived and spread across the Northwest. Now, against the wishes of the majority of Americans, the livestock industry and hunting associations have banded together with oil and gas interests to convince the U.S. government to cleanse these amazing creatures from our public lands (and private). Now, we’re spending millions of dollars to help hunters and trappers kill these canines for $25 each. We can’t afford the status quo on predator policies.
Wild Horses and Burros
After centuries of roaming the American West, mustangs have recently fallen prey to the same scorched earth campaign that is victimizing wolves. Taxpayers are paying private contractors $500 per head (dead or alive) that they remove from our public lands. Now, we are paying millions of dollars every year to house the mustangs in abusive conditions, where hundreds more have died. Others have been sold to slaughterhouses for pennies. The National Science Foundation has condemned the practice as ineffective, wasteful and abusive. We can’t afford the status quo.
Grazing Fees and Permits
Historically in the western United States, much public land is leased for grazing by cattle or sheep (most National Park Service areas are closed to livestock grazing). This includes vast tracts of National Forest and BLM land, as well as land on some Wildlife Refuges. National Parks are the exception. This use became controversial in the late 20th century as it was examined by environmentalists and scientists concerned about the impact of these exotic animals on native plant populations and watersheds.
A few elite cattle companies (most family owned ranches have been cannibalized by corporate cattle conglomerates) have historic grazing permits that allow them to graze thousands of cattle every year on public lands in the American West. The U.S. government makes pennies on these permits–they would be worth a hundred times their value if auctioned every year on a public market. Plus, the cattle that make it to public lands are known to overgraze and damage the watersheds. Plus, these are the cattle that are driving the war on wolves and mustangs. As droughts worsen in most areas of the West, the cattle conglomerates don’t wan’t to share grass or water with mustangs and they would rather drive wolves back into extinction than lose one cow or calf (which they are compensated for when it happens). In addition, the threat of spreading disease from livestock to wildlife and from wildlife to livestock is immense.
For example, the most frightening threat is prion disease–better known as mad cow disease and chronic wasting disease (CWD). CWD is ravaging deer, elk and moose across North America. The pathogen behind the disease (a prion) is highly transmissible and it incubates in the soil and elsewhere in the environment. Prions are in the blood, urine, saliva, skin, milk and feces of infected animals. The likelihood that a cow can graze on public land and ingest prions from plants, soil and water is very high. The chance that a “mad cow” is on public land and will contaminate soil and water is equally plausible because we don’t test grazing (or milking) animals for the disease at all (and we test very few animals destined for slaughter). We can’t afford the status quo.
Oil and Gas
The oil boom is back and now it’s called fracking. Oil and gas companies are paying pennies for the right to take oil and gas, while destroying a vanishing source of groundwater and drinking water. If this industry doesn’t fit the definition of homeland terrorism, please show me a more abusive example. We can’t afford the status quo as we are destroying long-term water sources for the short-term profits of a few corporations.
Mining and Mine Reclamation
Have you ever heard about the mining law of 1872? Have you ever heard of another law that hasn’t been updated and reformed to meet the changing demands of a nation? That’s how ludicrous this power play has been. No one is willing to stand up to the banks and mining companies to push through laws that protect our natural resources and citizens, while collecting a fair market value for the resources pillaged from our soils at the expense of clean water downstream (many abandoned mines still spew toxins into our streams daily). We can’t afford a policy developed to rape the West any longer.
Have you ever seen one of god’s creations caught in a trap? It’s time to outlaw this barbaric practice. It’s inhumane and insane.
The United States is considering cutbacks and reforms in many areas. Let’s make sure that we make real reforms for the right reasons and let’s give private industry just one vote of many, while assuring that the voice of reason and the voices of citizens are heard.