« August 2005 | Main | October 2005 »

September 22, 2005

Sell the Public Lands to Pay for Hurricane Relief?

Here it comes again! When the government gets into a fiscal bind, there are always those who say, "Sell the public lands." The latest to join the list is Congressman Tom Tancredo, who thinks selling "a portion of federal land holdings" might be a good way to pay for relief in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. If we did it, where would it stop? And, What will we do the day we wake up and realize we've played that game to its conclusion and now must face up to fiscal responsibilities postponed during the play?

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Tom Tancredo (R-CO) introduced a bill today [Sept. 21] to and to use the proceeds for natural disaster or terrorist attack relief. The bill directs the Secretary of the Interior Gayle Norton to designate 15 percent of federal land for sale, excluding National Parks and land held for Indian tribes. The Interior and Agriculture Departments would prioritize selling land in states where the federal government owns more than 15 percent of the total acreage.

"The federal government may be cash-poor, but it is land-rich. There is demand for farm and ranchland, and the federal government should have long ago transferred its massive holdings to the private sector, where it can be put to use," said Tancredo. "Not only would land sale provide a one-time cash infusion for the Katrina catastrophe, but also it would establish long-term property and sales tax revenue streams."

The federal government owns more than 654 million acres of land, including a majority of land in Alaska, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Utah. Only 2.4 percent of federal land in the U.S. is used for military purposes, and more than 5.1 million acres of federal land are classified as 'vacant' with no definable purpose.

According to an August, 2005 USDA study, the average value of farm and ranchland in the U.S. is $1,510 per acre. If the federal land designated by the Interior Department sold for the national average, the sale would reap nearly $148 billion. Even if the land sold for the least expensive average state price (New Mexico, at $290 per acre), the sale would still generate almost $19 billion.

Much of federal land holdings were set aside for homesteading in the 1800s, but because of minimal water sources and a lack of farming technology, the land was turned over to the Interior Department. The Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management routinely complains that it does not have the resources to provide upkeep for federal land.

"Environmental radicals put up regulatory roadblocks to use of our national land, often miring any sensible land use proposal in endless litigation. My bill would give environmentalists an excellent opportunity to put their money where their mouth is and buy up federal land for conservation," said Tancredo.

Posted by Dave on September 22, 2005 at 11:40 AM Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

September 20, 2005

"Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act of 2005" Introduced

On Sept. 19, Representative Richard Pombo (R-CA), Chairman of the House Committee on Resources, introduced legislation {H.R. 3824} under the title Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act of 2005 (TESRA). Rep. Pombo’s stated intent is: “To amend and reauthorize the Endangered Species Act of 1973 to provide greater results conserving and recovering listed species,amend the ESA…” Here’s a link to a Thomas search page for bill text, cosponsors, etc.

The New York Times immediately blasted it in a Sept. 20 article titled, House Bill Would Limit U.S. Power to Protect Species, by Felicity Barringer.

... In a news conference Monday, Mr. Pombo said his legislation "will put the focus on recovery where it should be and will eliminate a lot of the conflicts we have had with private property owners."

The proposal was markedly different from draft legislation circulated earlier this summer, which put even greater restrictions on federal agencies that enforce the law, and which would have automatically taken the law off the books in 2015. The new measure abandons the latter goal but creates new hurdles for federal agencies - chiefly the Fish and Wildlife Service - as they take actions to protect species.

The Endangered Species Act has been a flashpoint for landowners, property-rights advocates and state and local governments, most in the West, who see its provisions as onerous and costly, and chafe at the ability of people not directly involved in a dispute to sue the federal government to ensure compliance with the law.

At the same time, the law is credited with preventing the extinction of hundreds of species of insects, plants and animals in the past quarter-century, though only a handful of the more than 1,200 listed species have recovered sufficiently to be removed from the list.

Mr. Pombo's first effort to rewrite the law, in the mid 1990's, failed. Since becoming chairman of the committee, he had made this goal a priority.

An important part of the legislation is a provision that allows the Interior Department, the parent agency of the Fish and Wildlife Service, to provide "conservation grants" to property owners who are deemed to be helping conserve an endangered species. The legislation also requires that property owners be paid "fair market value" if, in the view of federal biologists, their development plans would violate the law.

The purpose of the compensation would be "to alleviate the burden of conservation measure imposed on" landowners who forgo their plans in order to help a species' survive.

Chuck Cushman, the executive director American Land Rights Association, praised this approach, saying: "We're getting away from the command-and-control penalty concept. More landowners will feel free to help species and not feel that they're going to lose their land.

Right now, Mr. Cushman added, "there's a fair amount of shoot, shovel and shut up going on," by landowners who would rather break the law and kill an endangered animal than risk facing land-use restrictions.

But Michael Bean, who heads the wildlife protection program at Environmental Defense and was an early proponent of working with landowners, criticized the new measure as a "big step backwards for endangered species conservation." He faulted a new requirement that federal scientists provide, within 90 days, an answer to any landowner's question about whether a planned activity would run afoul of the act by harming an endangered species.

Under the new law, if the government has not answered within 90 days, the landowner can proceed with the plans. Mr. Bean said "there's potentially no limit to the sorts of requests that could be made of" federal biologists "by businesses seeking to develop, build, cut trees."

The Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, he added, have traditionally been stretched in trying to meet deadlines in the existing law and have frequently failed to do so.
The Center for Biological Diversity calls it “Pombo’s Anti-Endangered Species Bill” and provide on their site “Pombo’s own section by section analysis,“ along with perspectives from various environmental groups.

Posted by Dave on September 20, 2005 at 03:21 PM Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 16, 2005

Roadless Area Conservation National Advisory Committee Members Announced

WASHINGTON, Sept. 16, 2005 - Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns today announced the selection of members to the Roadless Area Conservation National Advisory Committee. This committee will provide advice and recommendations on implementing the state petitions for Inventoried Roadless Area Management Rule adopted by USDA in May of 2005. ...

Members of the committee will review petitions submitted by states, seek consensus, identify issues, and provide the Secretary or the Secretary's designee with advice and recommendations on implementing the State Petitions Rule. The committee membership is geographically diverse, with members from ten states and the District of Columbia.

Members of the committee include: Darin Bird, representing state-elected officials; Robert Cope, representing locally-elected officials; Adena Cook and Geraldine Link, representing developed recreation organizations; Jeff Eisenberg, James Riley, and Gregory Schaefer, representing commercial interest organizations; Denny Scott representing organized labor organizations; and Paul Hansen, Dale Harris, Todd Schulke, Howard Vaughan, and Chris Wood representing environmental organizations

Posted by Dave on September 16, 2005 at 03:16 PM Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

September 13, 2005

While the Forest Service Slept Planned

Much of the discussion on this blog and in the Forest Service lately has been about the “new planning rule,” related directives, etc. But much of the action is elsewhere—in legislative, judicial and administrative arenas far apart from planning. Consider these:

  • “The U.S. Forest Service will propose regulations to shorten the environmental reviews of small oil-drilling projects in national grasslands, an Agriculture Department official said Friday.” Forest Service Plan Would Speed Oil Drilling, Dale Wetzel, SF Chronicle AP, Sept. 9

  • The White River National Forest this week reorganized its staff to eliminate 25 management and business administration positions and create 23 new ones to “focus more on the field work,” Forest Supervisor Maribeth Gustafson said.

    The Glenwood Springs Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management will be one of several offices in the West in a pilot project next year with other federal agencies to more efficiently process mineral leases and drilling permits, office Manager Jamie Connell said. That will mean more staff for the Glenwood Springs office. …The national energy bill included the Glenwood Springs BLM Field Office in a study on how to efficiently process energy-related applications on federal lands, Connell said. That will include the White River Forest, Environmental Protection Agency, Fish and Wildlife Agency, Bureau of Indian Affairs and others, she said.

    Eight BLM offices in five states — Colorado, Utah, Montana, New Mexico and Wyoming — will take part in the three-year study. Those five states contain the largest on-shore gas resource in the country, an estimated 139 trillion cubic feet of gas, enough to the heat 55 million homes for almost 30 years, according to Interior Department figures. More than half of those lands are under federal management. Glenwood Federal Agencies Staff UpThe Daily Sentinel, Sept 13

  • A handbook detailing U.S. Forest Service policies for allowing cattle grazing on national grasslands will be reviewed cover to cover, rather than singling out two new chapters to which ranchers objected, a top official said. The chapters were recently changed to say that ranchers who lease grazing property in national grasslands shouldn't get grazing permits that come with the land. The changes were suspended after they prompted widespread complaints. Forest Service Will Review Grazing Policy Book, Officials Say, Grand Forks Herald, Sept. 9

  • The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals this week loosened the standards for what Utah and its counties can claim as their roads in the state's outback. … U.S. District Court Judge Tena Campbell ruled that the county's road claims did not meet the BLM's criteria requiring proof that the roads led to specific destinations and that they showed evidence of purposeful, mechanical construction. But the 10th Circuit this week rejected the construction requirement, ruling that local governments must prove only that a road has been in continuous use for 10 years. …

    [Utah] Assistant attorney general [Ralph] Finlayson believes the key component of the 10th Circuit ruling was that it expands the definition of a road to include old mining and jeep trails, which the counties consider part of their transportation network. "We're not talking about a freeway," he said. "The interpretation of what a highway is, is quite minimal. It can even include trails, though we're not seeking to establish trails as a right of way. We argued these roads are used by vehicles."

    But SUWA's [Heidi] McIntosh believes the appeals court also laid down a firm marker requiring local governments to show what she calls "prolonged use" to have a valid road claim.

    "Just because an off-road vehicle goes down into a wash bottom, that doesn't make it a highway," she said. "All of these two-tracks and dirt trails that have not received substantial use and have dried up and blown away do not deserve RS 2477 status." Warning: Bumps Ahead in Dispute Over Rural Roads, Joe Baird, The Salt Lake Tribune, Sept. 10

  • … "[Community forestry is] a dramatic new model for forest management," said Jeff Campbell, senior program manager for environment and development at the Ford Foundation, which has given $25 million to finance community forestry in the United States over the last five years.

    In community forestry, traditional opponents like environmentalists and loggers often join to fight a common enemy, for example subdivisions, absentee landowners or the decline of a local economy. The concept has been embraced by the Bush administration, which held a conference on what is known as cooperative conservation in late August in St. Louis.

    "It's a new way of doing business," said Kathleen Clarke, director of the Bureau of Land Management, who toured the Blackfoot project in August. "Ours is not a command-and-control operation. It acknowledges that the best hope of being stewards is to pull together folks who live on these lands with the federal agencies."

    "It's Sagebrush Rebellion light," said John Horning, executive director of Forest Guardians, an environmental group in Santa Fe, N.M., referring to an effort in the 1980's by some Western politicians to persuade the federal government to turn over federal land to the states. "It's sinister and it's frightening, because it comes at the same time federal environmental safeguards on public lands are being dismantled to allow logging, mining, and oil and gas development." Community Forestry Bids To Preserve Scenic West {$ link}, Jim Robbins NY Times, Sept. 4

  • … "The Nature Conservancy has most of its barrier islands open to the public, free of charge," [Steve Parker, executive director of The Nature Conservancy's Virginia Coast Reserve] said. "It is not appropriate for somebody to turn around and charge the public for access to the same places for their own personal gain."

    Everything Parker and his staff, volunteers and partners do at the coast reserve is in support of the conservancy's mission: to preserve the plants, animals, and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on Earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive.

    "Our primary obligation is to the mission and to the people who gave us the money to do it," he said. Marketing is a Cooperative Effort, Ceri Larson Danes, Eastern Shore News, Sept. 10 [Note: In forwarding email commentary Scott Silver sagely notes: “How strange this is! The Nature Conservancy's privately owned lands are kept open to the public, free of charge, while public lands are increasingly put off limits to all except those willing and able to pay extra for accessing lands they already own.”]
Could it be that the Power Players are comfortable letting the focus be on planning while the real action is elsewhere? What other action are we missing out on?

Posted by Dave on September 13, 2005 at 04:23 PM Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack