Antiplanner readers know that I have no sympathy for Clive Bundy, who has been trespassing on federal lands for two decades and somehow made people feel like he was the victim. Perhaps it seems strange, then, that I have a lot more sympathy for the Drakes Bay Oyster Company, whose operations in California’s Point Reyes National Seashore the National Park Service is trying to shut down.
Incompatible use? As long as the oyster company could avoid using motorized equipment in the part of the bay designated wilderness, oyster growing should be compatible with wilderness. Flickr photo by Earthworm.
At first glance, the facts are similar. Both Bundy and Drakes Bay
used public lands or waters for decades, and were allowed to continue to use those resources after the BLM took over the former and the Park Service took over the latter. Then Congress passed laws–the Endangered Species Act in Bundy’s case and a wilderness law covering the oyster farm–that restricted the use of those resources.
Now that forest fires are in the news, someone noticed that President Obama has proposed a new way of funding wild firefighting. Instead of borrowing from its fuels treatment funds when the Forest Service exhausts its regular fire-fighting budget, Obama wants to let the agency draw upon a new “special disaster account” that is “adjusted each year to reflect the 10-year average cost of responding to such events.”
That makes so much sense, because treating excessive firefighting costs by giving the Forest Service more money is exactly like suppressing forest fires by throwing gasoline on them. In case you don’t hear the sarcasm, it makes no sense at all.
Obama is focusing on the wrong problem, the drawdown of funds intended for fuel treatments. The real problem is the incentives the Forest Service has to spend wildly on firefighting.
The Antiplanner understands politics well enough to know that polarization is sometimes useful. But I still find it annoying when people who don’t understand an issue use it to create unnecessary hysteria. On one hand Senator Harry Reid calls people protesting federal land policy “domestic terrorists.” On the other hand, some people hope that rancher Bundy’s stand will be the first shot in a “war on federal bureaucrats.”
The Bundy issue is neither war nor terrorism. It is a simple case of trespass. It won’t be solved by turning federal land over to the states or selling it. Nor will it be solved by demonizing ranchers, property rights advocates, or federal land managers.
For one thing, we can’t give the land “back to the states,” as some people advocate, because it was never state land to begin with. With the exception of Texas and a few Spanish land grants, pretty much all land west of the Mississippi River was, at one time, federal land. When Congress made Nevada a state, it offered it 4 million randomly selected acres. The state asked if Congress would be willing to give it 2 million but let it select the acres it wanted, and Congress agreed. The state eventually sold all but 2,500 of those acres.
Property rights activists are irate that the federal government has seized the cattle of a Southern Nevada rancher who has allowed his herd to graze on Bureau of Land Management lands. Back in 1993, the feds limited rancher Cliven Bundy to 150 animals in order to protect the desert tortoise. He responded that his family began grazing the area decades before the BLM was even formed in 1935. In protest, he stopped paying grazing fees and continued to graze 500 or more (by some accounts as many as 1,000) cattle on the land.
Bundy has lost several court cases since then and the BLM says he owes $300,000 in grazing fees. More than two decades after the dispute began, the agency finally sent armed agents in to remove the offending cattle. In the course of doing so, they arrested–and apparently roughly treated–Bundy’s son for stepping off an area the feds had set aside as a “free speech area” in order to videotape the federal action.
Nevada, of course, is ground zero for the Sagebrush Rebellion, a movement the began in the 1970s promoting privatization of federal lands. There’s a good reason for that: something like 89 percent of all the land in Nevada is federal, which definitely impedes growth in the state. On the other hand, rancher Bundy’s pre-1995 grazing allotment covered nearly 160,000 acres, suggesting the land must be pretty poor quality (at least for cattle grazing) to handle just a few hundred cattle.
On Saturday morning, February 8, we awoke to find three feet of snow outside. Our delight ended the next day, when newspapers reported that 61-year-old Tim Lillebo had collapsed and died shoveling his driveway Saturday evening.
Tim helped lead an incredible group of people dedicated to saving Oregon wilderness in the late 1970s and 1980s and centered on an organization then known as the Oregon Wilderness Coalition (OWC). We were more like family than co-workers, putting in long hours for nearly no pay, sharing rooms, cars, meals, and just about everything else. In mourning Tim, I find myself mourning someone who was nearly a brother but also the loss of the family itself.
The Antiplanner’s friend, Andy Stahl–who frequently comments on this blog–recently appealed a timber sale on the Bighorn National Forest. That takes me back to the 1970s and 1980s, when Andy and I appealed timber sales, forest plans, and other national forest and BLM projects almost on a weekly basis. Sometime around 1980, I held the distinction of having appealed more BLM timber sales than anyone, but Andy soon eclipsed me.
Recent aerial photo of timber cut from the Bighorn National Forest in about 1985.
During the 1980s, the Forest Service sold nearly 11 billion board feet of timber each year, but in the 1990s this rapidly declined, partly due to Andy’s activities protecting the spotted owl and–I’d like to think–partly due to Forest Service employees reading my book, Reforming the Forest Service, and deciding they didn’t want to be that kind of an agency any more. (As I describe in this article, this is greatly oversimplified and a lot of other factors were involved, some of them quite surprising).
Remember when park rangers were nice people who would go out of their way to help you if you needed it? Neither do I, but it now appears they are going out of their way to hinder you even if you don’t plan to visit a national park. Moreover, at least some these orders come from “above the department,” meaning the White House.
It is well known that the Park Service is closing access to parks and monuments that cost little or nothing to allow access to. For example, it has posted guards around things like the Lincoln Memorial and Jefferson Memorial to make sure people don’t enter, because otherwise it would have to post guards in the memorials themselves to make sure people don’t do inappropriate things like (gasp!) dance inside one of the memorials.
But the Park Service is also attempting to force the closure of state parks, apparently on the theory that some state parks have received federal funding in the past. At least one state governor has refused to go along with this.
The Obama administration has threatened to veto a bill that would put western Oregon forest lands in a trust to be managed for the benefit of Oregon counties. The Antiplanner agrees that this is a bad bill, but for different reasons than Obama.
A sign of the 1980s–BLM clearcuts were even more aggressive than those of the Forest Service. Although this photo was taken in 2006, the BLM has sold far less timber in the last two decades than the two decades before that. Flickr photo by Francis Eatherington.
The Oregon & California (O&C) Railroad land grant lands have a long and sordid history. Way back in 1866, Congress granted millions of acres to anyone who built a railroad from Portland to San Francisco, on the condition that the railroad sell them to actual settlers in amounts no more than 160 acres for no more than $2.50 an acre. Most of the lands were not really suited for farming, so the railroad sold larger parcels and sometimes for more money. As a result, in 1916 Congress took back about 2 million acres of as-yet unsold land from the railroad. Despite the O&C name, the lands are exclusively in Oregon.
The Forest Service says that it has pretty much contained the Green Ridge Fire. When the Antiplanner reported on the fire last Tuesday (August 6), it had burned 550 acres, and officials said they expected to have it contained by the end of August 7. In fact, it took at least four more days and a total cost of close to $5 million.
This map shows the status of the fire on Wednesday, August 7. Notice that the Forest Service was building a fire line (black line) well south of the actual fire front (red line). Click image for a larger view.
On the night of August 8, a strong wind whipped up the fire and sent fire brands that created spot fires as much as a mile away from the main fire, increasing the area burned to 950 acres. But on the evening of Friday, August 9, firefighters were helped by a rain storm that didn’t last long but was quite heavy. Rain fell again the afternoon of August 10. Despite the rain and Forest Service assurances that “lower temperatures and higher relative humidities are helping firefighting efforts,” the number of acres burned climbed to 1,150 by Saturday morning.
Last week, the Antiplanner was fortunate to be a part of a small group of people who met with Dan Wenk, the superintendent of Yellowstone Park. Among the topics of discussion were the reintroduced wolves. At the time 66 wolves were released in 1996, there were more than 25,000 elk in the park, which everyone agreed had led to serious overgrazing.
Wolves hunt a bull elk in Yellowstone. NPS photo.
Most biologists predicted that the wolves would only reduce the elk populations by 20 to 30 percent. In a demonstration of how poor their models were, feasting off the elk allowed the wolf population to grow to more than 1,000 within a decade, while the park’s elk population declined by close to 80 percent.