IS SELLING OFF FEDERAL LANDS GOOD FOR THE ENVIRONMENT?

SFL Staff

by Aaron White

A Land Without Value?

Earlier this year, the House of Representatives passed H. Res. 5, a resolution addressing changes to rules for the 115th congress. In a single line the House eased the ability for the Federal Government to transfer lands to “a State, local government, or tribal entity” by essentially claiming that federal land has no value. Many environmentalist organizations have been quick to denounce this resolution but it’s actually a rare opportunity for market environmentalists to demonstrate how lands can best be managed: privately.

A wide range of organizations from The Wilderness Society to the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, oppose these sales. The question remains why?

The Guardian notes, “Western states, where most federal land is concentrated, are already introducing legislation that pave the way for land transfers.” Transfers from state and local government actors into the hands of private enterprise and land trusts is likely. However, land trusts such as the American Prairie Reserve, are privately managed, and remain publicly accessible.

To whom these lands are made available is unknown. These are serious questions but gradual privatization, depending on the form it takes, is not necessarily a bad thing. Edward Abbey once called the Bureau of Land Management the “Bureau Lacking Management.” The quip may have been in jest but the moniker is not unjustified. BLM has a history of moving from one scandal to another; most recent was the selling off of over 1500 wild horses for slaughter.

Market Environmentalism

What is now known as market-based environmentalism emerged several decades ago. This strain of environmentalism is manifested in land trusts, privately managed public parks (like Central Park in New York), and environmentally minded individuals. Some of these individuals combine agriculture with eco-tourism or use larger systems-based ecological approaches to farm management.

As market-based environmentalism makes quiet gains in showcasing the synthesis between markets and ecology, think tanks have grown to help identify new possibilities. The Property and Environment Research Center in Montana and Strata in Utah are two such think tanks, paving the way to better understanding market-based environmentalism through policy and case studies.

What these think tanks relay is a more optimistic vision for the environment. Reports by these think tanks show where innovation is leading to positive impacts. One positive impact is the transition of private companies, and some state actors, to natural gas, which has cut U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by 12% between 2005-2015.

Repeal or Replace the EPA and the BLM

The Environmental Protection Agency and Bureau of Land Management are outdated, bureaucratic, and lacks innovative mechanisms for conservation and preservation. An article published in Inside Sources describes improvements to our environment are happening in spite of the EPA. In fact, the EPA can be totally replaced since “states have more local knowledge about how to best address local environmental problems,” and, “giving states more freedom and flexibility to address environmental issues is good for the environment.”

In a 2008 report by the World Resources Institute entitled, Bottom Line on State and Federal Policy Roles, there is special focus on how EPA regulations stymy growth and often come into conflict with State regulation. Environmental innovation continues and yet the EPA remains a laggard whose regulations weigh down progress.

Environmentalists are justified in their concerns over who federal land will be ceded to. But they are wrong to assume that all private actors will be negligent. Privately contracted companies like the Park Management Corporation are already stepping in to operate state parks privately as well as environmentally friendly

This allows states to cut costs while increasing revenues and ensuring both longevity and sustainability of the parks. Alternatives to bad management at the hands of federal agencies means a decentralized approach; an approach that cannot exist along either the EPA or the BLM.

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