Are radical environmentalists trying to dupe Sec. Jewell?

On Saturday, thousands gathered at the Bluff Community Center in Southeastern Utah to share their opinion on the proposed Bears Ears National Monument with Sec. Sally Jewell and other visiting federal officials. As local San Juan County residents arrived, they were met by 100-degree temperatures, signs for and against the monument and a large contingency of strangers wearing blue shirts. When I asked a local Navajo who these people were, she said, “I know a few of them, but I’ve never seen most in my life.”

Video footage and audio statements from monument supporters appear to show that the Sierra Club and other extreme environmental groups bussed large groups in from all across the West in an apparent attempt to hijack the meeting and drown out local voices. One of the bus drivers revealed that “seven or eight buses” brought in monument supporters from as far away as New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado.

A monument supporter said, “This is a coalition of the Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, Wilderness Alliance. They brought in a bus from Flagstaff, from Durango, from Moab.”

What Sec. Jewell promised would be a community meeting intended to “learn from and listen to locals” was, instead, undermined by outsiders.

When given a chance to speak, the majority of San Juan County residents opposed the monument. However, comments made by out-of-staters could have given visiting officials the impression that the county is split on the issue because commenters were not required to provide their names or where they were from.

Under this anonymity, many monument supporters focused their comments on outdoor recreation and its importance in their lives. This was in stark contrast to locals who expressed fears over a monument prohibiting them from gathering wood to heat their homes in the winter, pushing cattle and ranching families off the range, and economically devastating their county. Monument advocates seemed to brush these concerns aside as they elevated their desire to hike, mountain bike and rock climb over the basic needs of San Juan County residents.

Once the meeting ended, the blue shirts filed one by one back onto the buses and made the long trek home. For them, their job was done and they could move on with their lives. But for locals, who are reliant on the land, they have to live with the decisions made by Sec. Jewell (who enthusiastically expressed a desire to vacation in the area) and the Obama administration. Southeastern Utah isn’t a vacation spot for local residents. It’s their home, their heritage and a place where their families have lived for generations.

Sec. Jewell, you came to Utah seeking local input. Unfortunately, what you saw and heard was theater staged by radical environmentalist outsiders intent on smothering local voices. This wasn’t local grassroots. This was astroturf.


Op-ed: National Parks could learn from Utah’s state parks management

(S.L. Tribune) This year the National Park Service is celebrating its 100-year anniversary. But as the agency enters its second century, our national parks are in trouble. A recent study conducted by the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) noted that the Park Service has a deferred maintenance backlog of nearly $12 billion — an amount five times that of its last budget from Congress.

The symptoms of this backlog are evident throughout our national parks. Nearly half the roadways in national parks are rated in “fair” or “poor” condition. Dozens of bridges are considered “structurally deficient.” And 6,700 miles — more than one-third of all trails in the entire park system — are in “poor” or “seriously deficient” condition. Not only does this jeopardize the safety and quality of visitors’ experiences, but it threatens the very resources the National Park Service was created to protect.

However, all is not gloom and doom in our public parks. PERC’s latest report showed that state parks are providing the high-quality recreational opportunities that visitors seek, and doing so responsibly. Most people don’t realize that Western state parks receive nearly twice as many visitors as national parks in the West.

Take Utah’s state parks. These parks are incredibly popular, receiving more than 200 visitors per acre in 2013 — more than any other Western state and 47 times as many visits per acre as national parks in the West. Utah’s parks are better managed as well. In 2013, visitor fees covered 66 percent of Utah state parks’ expenditures, while national park visitor fees accounted for just 10 percent of the National Park Service’s management costs.

To see why this matters, consider Utah’s Dead Horse Point State Park near Moab. This park is renowned for the mountain biking experience it provides visitors through picturesque desert scenery. But it wasn’t always this way. In the early 2000s, Dead Horse Point was losing popularity — bad news for the park’s budget. In response, park managers decided to put in nine miles of mountain biking trails to attract more visitors. In 2009, the Intrepid Trail System opened to great success, and annual visits increased almost 50,000 between 2005 and 2010 — earning nearly $25,000 from visitors using the trail in 2010.

Today, the Dead Horse Point park trail system consists of 17 miles of single-track bike trails and has become a nationally recognized biking destination. It’s hard to imagine the National Park Service being as innovative and entrepreneurial as Utah’s state park managers.

While the role of the National Park Service in supplying recreational opportunities in the state is widely known across the country, Utah’s state parks play perhaps an even more important role. Our state parks are conserving Utah’s natural and cultural resources and providing the types of recreational opportunities the public desires in an economically sustainable manner. The National Park Service needs to take a page out of Utah’s book and learn to responsibly manage the lands entrusted to its care.

Matthew Anderson is policy analyst for the Coalition for Self-Government in the West, a project of the Salt Lake City-based Sutherland Institute.

This op-ed was originally published June 25 in The Salt Lake Tribune.

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:

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.

Guest Commentary: Nobody’s seizing fed lands, and other canards

CSG-W Director Carl Graham’s guest commentary on the misinformation that’s being peddled about federal lands transfer efforts.

Stop with the straw men: Nobody’s ‘seizing’ federal lands

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” Mahatma Gandhi said that, and it’s a pretty reliable barometer of political progress. The further an issue advances along Gandhi’s spectrum, the more seriously people are taking it, and the nastier the side that’s losing gets.

Based on what we’re seeing in Montana’s papers and the talking points of some political hopefuls, those of us who think states should have more control over federal lands have moved beyond being laughed at and are now happily joined in a serious fight.  Except that judging from the straw man arguments and hyperbole of those who think D.C. bureaucrats know (or even care) what’s best for the rest of us, truth has been the first casualty.

While many of us are calling for a real discussion of costs and benefits surrounding federal lands management in the states, others are engaging in pure political marketing, trotting out poll-tested phrases designed to inflame or demonize rather than inform or engage. That’s too bad. This is serious stuff.

What most of us in the lands transfer movement actually want is pretty simple, even if the logistics of getting it are daunting. Nobody’s trying to “seize” the lands. We want an orderly transition that gives local citizens a say in what happens (and doesn’t happen) on D.C.-controlled multiple-use lands in their states. This isn’t a grab to privatize rivers, to strip-mine Yellowstone Park, or to despoil the natural legacy we inherited and want to pass on. It’s simply an attempt to use multiple-use lands in multiple ways, and to have a say in how that’s done.

So what’s some of the misinformation being passed around? First, that national parks, tribal lands or wilderness areas will be affected. They won’t be … at all. Those lands, along with monuments and military reservations, are off the table and not part of this discussion. Anyone who says otherwise is misinformed, misleading, or outside the mainstream of the federal lands transfer movement. Montana has about 27 million acres of federal lands. About 22 million acres of those lands have been designated for multiple uses since statehood but are increasingly seeing access and uses restricted by faraway bureaucrats answering to different masters. Meanwhile, we’re losing access to recreation and good-paying jobs on more of these lands each year.

Next, opponents say we can’t afford to manage lands that would be turned over to state control. Well, yes: We can’t afford to manage – or mismanage – them as the federal government does, with increased wildfire costs and waning revenues. Each state needs to do the math, but studies so far have shown states manage lands at a profit while federal agencies manage them at a loss. Montanans should be given the opportunity to at least study the issue.

Finally, opponents assert that existing rights and traditional uses on federal lands will be sacrificed at the altar of greed without presenting any evidence in the form of policy initiatives or even transfer proponent statements to back up this claim. And it’s just plain wrong. Existing rights – grazing, mineral, timber, access and more – will have to be respected as an integral part of any transfer. Just as important, so will traditional uses like hunting, fishing, hiking and more. Any other approach wouldn’t just be illegal – it would be unfair to Montanans now and into the future.

Straw men don’t hold any weight and go up in flames when held up to scrutiny. Let’s have an honest debate and stop the name-calling and misinformation. Our families and our lands deserve better.

Billings Gazette – Facts knock down straw man arguments from land transfer opponents

Talking Public Lands on Santa Fe’s The Jungle, KVSF 101.5

Garrett Robinson, host of KVSF’s The Jungle in Santa Fe, NM talked with CSG-W director Carl Graham, NM Rep. Yvette Herrell and Rio Grande Foundation president Paul Gessing in an hour-long discussion of federal funds and federal lands in the state.

Federal Lands Discussion with NM PBS

Federal Lands Discussion with NM PBS

Fred Martino of New Mexico PBS station KRWG speaks with Carl Graham, Director of the Coalition for Self-Government in the West about federal lands and federal dependence in the state.

Carl Graham with New Mexico PBS KRWG’s Fred Martino

How/Why the West is turning right … sort of

CSG-W director Carl Graham’s answer to the question “What’s happening with conservatism in the West” in the Washington Times.

Bottom line:

The tilt of the West, and the nation may come down to mundane math. If an urban majority that is disconnected from the rural production economy, a majority that values feel-good policy over physical outcomes, can impose its values from tiny blue dots on a vast red map, then all is lost at least until those blue dots run out of food and electricity.


Read the full commentary here.

CSG-W, Rio Grande Foundation on Trinity Broadcasting

CSG-W, Rio Grande Foundation on Trinity Broadcasting

Rio Grande Foundation president Paul Gessing and CSG-W director Carl Graham sat down in Trinity Broadcasting’s Albuquerque studios for a talk about federal lands and the risks of not knowing how federal funds are spent in New Mexico.

Full 15 minute or so interview is here.

Good Intentions, ESA Won’t Save the Sage Grouse

CSG-W Director Carl Graham and Reason’s Brian Seasholes co-authored an opinion piece for The Hill explaining why states and landowners should be allowed to manage threatened species like the sage grouse.