Article written by Mike Price, Sydney Jensen, and Brooks McFadden
Let’s get one thing clear. The federal government owns 640 million acres of land. That’s 28 percent of the entire United States.
It’s easy to talk about preserving the natural beauty of America. “Protect the trees!” “Think of the cute cuddly bears.” “They just want to destroy the land for more oil!” But let’s get some perspective.
As stated above, the federal government owns 640 million acres of land, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service. An article from The Atlantic said that is a greater land mass than Texas, California, Florida and New York combined. The majority of that land is concentrated in the western United states.
The federal government owns over 46 percent of 11 coterminous western states. It owns 80 percent of the entire state of Nevada.
The editorial bemoans the potential effects of President Trump’s April 26 executive order. Saying it could possibly lead to the elimination of national monuments created under the Antiquities Act.
What the editorial failed to do was explain what Trump’s executive order actually does.
The order requires the Secretary of the Interior to review all federal lands using the parameters laid out in the Antiquities Act. Meaning, federal lands should not exceed “the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”
The Secretary will also review all lands exceeding 100,000 acres or 156.25 square miles. The Secretary will determine if national monument designations were made with “adequate public outreach and coordination with relevant stakeholders.”
The controversial designation of Bears Ears in Utah as a national monument will most likely come under scrutiny from the Secretary. Especially considering it greatly exceeds the 156.25 square miles by 1,843.75 square miles and Utah Governor, Gary Herbert signed a resolution on Feb. 3 requesting Trump to rescind Bears Ears’ national monument designation.
The editorial goes so far as to infer the Utah’s resident’s concerns about the federal government snatching up 2,000 square miles of land are unimportant because they only care about monetary gain and developing oil and gas drilling. It states, “more harm than good will come from oil and gas drilling in these areas.”
Not only is that a horrendously generalized statement, in no way did the editorial provide any evidence that oil and gas drilling will do “more harm than good.”
It completely ignores the fact that the federal government owning the land does not prevent oil and gas drilling. In fact, the federal government frequently leases federal lands for drilling.
According to a 2016 CBO report, the federal government brings in an average of $11 billion per year from oil and gas leasing. It continues to charge ranchers grazing fees. Ranchers who make up a large part of many western state’s economies.
Simply put, the federal government’s appetite for western lands does not protect those lands. It is very much in the government’s interest to lease those lands for their own monetary gain. Sure, it distributes that money throughout the states, but if the land is going to be used for gain, it makes much more sense for the states to decide how their lands are used and where the money should go.
It’s not as if federal government not owning those lands means they will be bulldozed over to make way for condominiums. Privately owned or privately owned public open spaces are a reasonable solution that local governments can be in control.
Allowing land to be privately owned, but legally required to be open to the public makes much more sense than the federal government chomping up huge swaths of land.
The federal government does not have a vested interest in the people their land grabing effects. Whereas the states do. The people and their states should determine how their land is used to benefit their economy. Not the federal government.
Certainly, there is a place for national monuments. But there is absolutely no good reason for the federal government in the east to own half of the west.