by Sen. Doug Whitsett
The scope of the mismanagement of our more than 300 million acres of U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) federal lands was once again made evident by the smoke-filled August skies. Our timber and rangeland resources have been incinerated by multiple, enormous wildfires raging out of control in most of the western states.
According to the National Interagency Fire Center, over eight million acres had burned as of the beginning of September.
Annual greenhouse gas emissions from wildfires dwarfs our nation’s emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels. Their massive destruction and wholesale pollution has become an annual and ever-enlarging consequence of failed federal resource management.
Those repetitious wildfires are serving to focus the attention of a rapidly growing group of western legislators on the need to change the scope of federal land management. Many state legislators now believe the transfer of federal lands into state ownership is the method of choice for accomplishing that goal. I strongly agree!
The U.S. Government controlled more than 90 percent of the land in 10 mid-western and southern states for decades. Missouri Democrat Senator Thomas Hart Benton struggled for more than 30 years to successfully rectify that untenable situation. Largely due to his efforts, the U.S. government has already transferred all but about five percent of federal land ownership, in the states east of the Rocky Mountains, to the private sector and to state governments.
However, our federal government continues to own more than 50 percent of all the land in the 12 most western states. According to a recent 60 Minutes documentary, that land contains more than $150 trillion in mineral resources and more recoverable oil and gas than the rest of the world combined. It also encompasses the preponderance of our nation’s public forest, grazing and recreation resources.
Naysayers tell us the population in states east of the Rockies want “their” public lands preserved for the future at all costs. We might suggest that they sell some of their own private and state owned lands to the federal government to be “saved” for their posterity.
Other pessimists say the states do not have the scope of management skills to oversee such vast areas. They worry the cost of resource supervision would be too great for the states to bear.
It is true that the western states currently manage much less public trust lands than their federal counterparts. Most states received ownership of between five and 10 percent of their land mass when they obtained statehood. That public trust land is generally fragmented, separated by long distances and difficult to oversee.
And it is also true that many of us are not unwavering supporters of current methods used to manage our state trust lands. But the fact of the matter is that states are currently doing an exponentially better job of managing their public trust resources than their federal counterparts.
According to the Congressional General Accounting Office (GAO), the federal government generates only 73 cents in revenue for every dollar spent on resource management. Incredibly, it loses 27 cents of every dollar spent on managing the most valuable public estate on the planet.
Western state governments can and already are doing better. According to a recent Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) report, on average, the western states generate more than $14 in revenue for every dollar spent on resource management. Despite the fragmented nature of state trust resources, western states generate more than 50 times more net revenue than the federal government for every dollar spent on public land management.
Federal lands are required by law to be managed for multiple use. The 1960 Multiple-Use Sustainable Yield Act mandates how the USFS manages its resources, including timber harvest, livestock grazing, mineral extraction and recreation. The Federal Land and Policy Management Act of 1976 similarly regulates BLM management.
It turns out that managers of that federal land lose money on all four of the mandated multiple uses! But at the same time, state resource managers make significant profits from all four sectors.
The PERC Report found that the USFS loses nearly $150 on each one thousand board feet of timber it sells in Montana and Idaho while the BLM loses nearly $200. On average, state trust lands make a profit of about $115 per thousand board feet of timber marketed in those states. The difference is stark! Management of federal timber harvest sales costs between $260 and $315 more per thousand board feet of harvested timber.
According to the PERC Report and GAO data, the USFS loses 90 cents of every dollar spent on grazing management. It generates only about six cents per acre on its forest rangeland.
The BLM does only slightly better, losing 86 cents per dollar spent on grazing management. That agency generates about eight cents per acre of rangeland managed.
In contrast, average state trust lands generate nearly $5 in revenue for each dollar spent on state grazing management. The state agencies earn more than $1.60 per acre managed. The state’s return per acre, on grazing trust lands, is more than 20 times better than that of the federal government.
Federal performance in managing recreation is even more abysmal. The USFS and BLM lose about 75 cents on every dollar spent on recreation management. State trust lands are nearly 30 times more cost efficient, earning nearly $7 on each management dollar spent on recreation.
The federal performance on the management of mineral extraction is a little better. Those federal agencies earn nearly $20 for each dollar spent on resource management.
However, on average, state trust lands earn nearly $140 in revenue for each dollar spent on mineral extraction. Once again, the states are outperforming the federal government by a margin of about seven to one.
According to the PERC report, depending upon their location, trust lands that are managed by western states generally earn from four to 10 times more per acre, for local communities, than lands held in the federal estate. And state-managed trust lands return more than 10 times more revenue, per full-time employee, than the federal estate.
At least 10 western states have passed resolutions, enacted laws, or have appropriated money for studies in order to move forward with the transfer of federal lands to state ownership and management.
It is long past time for Oregon political leaders to get serious in their efforts to address our state’s immense natural resource issues.
Senator Doug Whitsett is the Republican state senator representing Senate District 28 – Klamath Falls