Federal Lands
Financial Readiness

Conservatism, State’s Rights and Family Values in the West


Lands Transfer Would Be A Process, Not A Grab

This post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. The podcast can be found at the bottom of this post.

You’ve probably heard by now that the Utah Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office came out with a report last week detailing the potential impacts of transferring about half of all federal lands here to state control.

This is an issue because people all over the West are feeling the pain of being cut off from the land they love — and need — whether to make a living or recreate … and just to live a happy and fulfilling life.

And the truth is, the only one cutting off access to public lands right now is the federal government. Unless you’re young, wealthy, and healthy enough to get the gear and time to trek in, you’re seeing your access reduced by either regulatory and legal hurdles, or actual chains being put up across roads and trails.

These policies are being forced on us by people in far off Washington, D.C., who know nothing of the rural production economy … what it makes, how it runs … or the families who choose to live and work in it.

These D.C. landlords serve a different master and have different priorities. They’re an interest group as powerful as any in the nation, but funded by you. And their interests don’t match those of the people who live and work on the lands they manage.

The Utah report weighs in at around 800 pages, so I can’t even do a fair job of summarizing it in the four minutes I’ve got here. But its conclusion – arrived at by economists and scientists from three Utah universities – is that, yes, Utah can manage those lands in an economical and balanced way without sacrificing the beauty of the state, its quality of life, or its attraction to tourists and recreationists from around the world. And it can even turn (trigger alert, I’m going to use a word that some in the environmental activist community might find offensive and cause the vapors) [Utah can turn] a profit to help pay for other state needs in the process.

Cue the hue and cry from the for-profit environmental movement. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and Center for Western Priorities, apparently after reading their own press releases instead of the actual study, immediately responded with boilerplate talking points and cherry-picked data respectively in their attempts to discredit the report. 

I can only imagine the munificent praise they would have bestowed on the report’s authors if they had arrived at opposite conclusions, but good on those researchers for following the data despite the shunning it’s bound to cause them at their faculty Christmas parties.

In truth, as the study shows, what the lands transfer initiative is trying to accomplish isn’t a seizure or a grab. It’s a process that will take years of study, collaboration and, probably lawsuits. I’ll let you gauge the intentions of those who don’t even want to see the process move forward by just getting the information we need to make good decisions. Shooting the messenger or misrepresenting the findings may slow the process down, but it won’t add value to the conversation.

Despite the claims of the naysayers, reputable constitutional scholars have published articles in reputable legal journals saying that a federal lands transfer has a fair shot at succeeding. Is that a slam dunk? No. But it’s a fair shot. That’s more than we’re getting now.

And this new study shows that, while states can’t afford to manage federal lands like they’re being managed now — with dense overgrown forests waiting to burn, ruined watersheds, volumes of regulations and a lawsuit around every corner — they can afford to manage them in a responsible and balanced way.

And finally, and this is the aspect that I think will be key, states can respect existing rights and traditional uses, whether they be economic, or recreational and aesthetic.

And that’s the right thing to do so people should insist on it.

But we shouldn’t have to be forced into false choices. It’s people who don’t know the land, who don’t share the same values, who are forcing us to take action. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

We all want similar things: to earn our success, to raise our families, grow our communities, to be happy. But we can’t do that if others are able to impose their priorities and their values on us. We need to restore a balance by restoring control of our lands.

– See more at: http://sutherlandinstitute.org/news/2014/12/10/land-transfer-would-be-a-process-not-a-grab-sutherland-soapbox-12914/#sthash.9D5YELw4.dpuf

EPA’s proposed carbon rule hits Utah’s most vulnerable hardest

Carl Graham – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed carbon rule is the latest in a series of regulations that will increase the cost of electricity and natural gas at a time when wages are stagnant and a lot of people are struggling to get by.

According to a recently released study, if this new carbon rule is imposed, the average Utah family’s electric bill will go up by $124 and their gas bill will increase by $266 annually, for a total of $32.50 per month. If you don’t think that’s a meaningful amount, then you’re out of touch with a lot of Utah families that are living paycheck to paycheck and are all too often faced with a choice between heating their houses or buying groceries for their children.

These regulations are a backdoor tax plain and simple, and the most regressive and punishing kind possible. It may not hurt you or me to pay an extra few bucks a month to satisfy an environmental feel-good agenda, the results of which will have absolutely no measurable impact on the global climate. But it does hurt the most vulnerable among us. It forces them to pay a larger percentage of their paycheck for everyday needs like heat and electricity, cutting into what disposable income they may have and harming not just their quality of life but also their ability to live. It’s despicable and the height of hypocrisy for ivory tower do-gooders to inflict real pain and suffering on others so that they can enjoy a clear global warming conscience in the comfort of their beautiful homes and SUVs.

This new rule, if it survives the legal and political challenges that are sure to come, also tips the balance of power from Utah’s government and agencies to bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.

Under the tenets of cooperative federalism, D.C. regulators have traditionally offered states the opportunity to meet federal standards, and even to have inputs into the making of those standards. Not so with the carbon rule. The EPA is presenting a ‘my way or the highway’ approach that offers states a rope with which to hang themselves and a threat to shoot them if they don’t cooperate. That’s not how it’s supposed to work, and it’s insulting that they think they know what’s best for each state and community at any rate.

The Utah Public Service Commission and its antecedents has had sole jurisdiction to oversee the state’s electricity retail electricity market since 1917—more than a half century before the EPA was formed. But apparently they don’t believe Utah’s regulators learned anything in that period and so now must be told how to do their jobs.

In truth, D.C. bureaucrats don’t know (or care) what’s best for Utah. They answer to a different master. And if we don’t push back against their overreaching control, we’ll find our state government is just a branch office of the for-profit environmental industry and their federal employees.

If you’d like to make a comment to the EPA about this proposed regulation, the deadline is Dec. 1st, 2014. You can find some pretty good ideas on how this rule would harm Utahns and impinge on our ability to govern ourselves from this document. And then you can take what’s most important to you and tell the EPA what you think here.

The Only One “Seizing” Federal Lands is Uncle Sam

By Paul Gessing and Carl Graham

In a recent New York Times editorial, New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich asserted that supporters of a transfer of some federal lands to the states are engaged in a “land grab.”

He’s not just wrong he’s inverting the truth completely. It is actually the federal government that has “grabbed” New Mexicans’ lands. In the past two years, Heinrich endorsed the federal government’s placing of more than 783,000 acres of New Mexico land, much of it private or “multiple-use” in two highly restrictive “monument” designation (the Rio Grande del Norte and Organ Mountain monuments).

Ironically, while any effort to return some federal lands to New Mexico control would require the support and buy-in of large numbers of state and local officials, these two wilderness areas were declared by the Obama Administration without so much as a single vote in Congress.

It is no surprise that Heinrich would support such a real land grab, as he is known for reflexively supporting the radical environmental lobbying groups in Washington. He has a 93 percent lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters and boasted a 100 percent score in 2013.

Given the environmental group’s penchant for shoving local interests and traditional users aside in order to increase the size of the federal estate (consider it one-stop-shopping for the environmental lobby), Heinrich also vastly prefers federal control of lands to private or state control.

First, it is important to destroy a few myths. The lands in question are not national parks or native lands.

Rather, our efforts are focused on federal lands managed by the National Forest and Bureau of Land Management.

Under plans supported by the authors’ organizations, no lands would be privatized. Rather the aforementioned lands currently managed by Washington would devolve to state control. Economically speaking, the impact on New Mexico of state vs. federal control over these lands would be stunning: up to 68,000 new jobs and $1 billion in new tax revenues. These astounding results are not the result of “privatizing” the lands, but rather they are from simply managing Forest Service and BLM lands as other state lands are currently managed.

These jobs and economic activity would be a tremendous boon for New Mexico, which Heinrich represents, and remains one of the poorest states in the nation with little economic growth in the recent economic recovery.

Lest one be led to believe that such policies are only advocated by radical anti-government types and Republicans, New Mexico’s current Land Commissioner, Ray Powell, a Democrat with strong ties to the environmental community, has advocated for having the feds return 1 million acres of BLM lands in the state in order to bring in an estimated $50 million to fund new early childhood programs.

Democrats, too, understand that bureaucrats in Washington are too isolated and ignorant (no matter how well-intentioned) to understand the unique needs of Western states.

Also, our efforts to restore state control over certain federally managed lands are by no means based entirely on economics. Climate change is often cited in the media as the cause of recent forest fires that have raged in New Mexico and throughout the West. The reality is that poor federal management (or the lack thereof) is a major contributor to rampant fires. Going back to when the Native Americans had control, lands were intensely managed. That ended when environmental zealots took control of Washington’s land management bureaucracies, eventually putting a stop to timber production and engaging in aggressive fire suppression that has caused a buildup of flammable material on forest floors.

Of course, users of these lands who have traditionally benefitted from their “multiple-use” management are losing out as more and more of these lands are locked up as “wilderness,” vast tracts of which are off limits to motor vehicles and non-recreational forms of human use.

The reality is that Heinrich and his radical friends in Washington are the ones grabbing lands in New Mexico and elsewhere. Advocates of restoring state control over these lands are attempting to restore some balance and sound management policies when it comes to large tracts of Western land.


Paul Gessing is president of the Rio Grande Foundation, a free market think tank based in New Mexico. Carl Graham is director of the Coalition for Self-Government in the West, a project of the Utah-based Sutherland Institute.

See the published version here.

Difference in lands polls explained by education

by: Carl Graham

Two recent polls on federal versus state lands management preferences have seemingly contradictory findings. In fact, they demonstrate one key point: The more people know about the costs and benefits of transferring federal lands to state control, the more they tend to endorse it.

A Center for American Progress poll released late last week claimed that 52 percent of those polled in eight Western states did not want their state to assume control and costs of public lands managed by national resource agencies. But the poll notably omitted any reference to potential benefits of states assuming control and instead listed only potential costs and controversial potential management policies.

Also of note, Utah bucked the apparent trend, with a 52 percent majority expressing a desire for state control. And that finding was echoed in another poll, released earlier this week by UtahPolicy.com, that asked simply whether that state’s residents supported or opposed state government taking control of BLM and Forest Service lands. Sixty percent of respondents supported state control of BLM lands, and 50 percent approved of taking over Forest Service lands in that poll. Fifty-four percent also supported a lawsuit against the federal government to demand control of those lands.

The difference seems to be that Utahns have been grappling with the state control issue for several years and are therefore much more educated on the costs and benefits of the state potentially assuming ownership of most federal lands. They know, for instance, that only multiple-use lands are being considered, leaving national parks, wilderness areas and military reservations in federal hands. They also know that these multiple-use lands can generate income to offset the expenses of managing them. Neither poll addressed these issues, but they have been widely debated in the state since passage of the Transfer of Public Lands Act in 2012.

Taken individually, these polls seem to have contradictory results. But the take-away from examining both of them together is simply that the more people know about the costs and benefits of transferring multiple-use federal lands to state control, the more they approve of it.