Category Archives: Public lands

This Land Is Whose Land?

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.

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Faith, Love, and Family

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.

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National Deforestation

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).

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For the Benefit of the Bureaucrats and the Spite of the People

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.

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Should Obama Veto O&C Lands Bill?

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.

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Green Ridge Fire Follow-Up

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.

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Save the Yellowstone Wolves

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.

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Recreation Fee Testimony

The Antiplanner is testifying this morning before the House Public Lands Subcommittee in favor of allowing federal land agencies to charge dispersed recreation fees (agencies today can charge for developed recreation, but not dispersed). My testimony is only two pages long, as it is supplemented by a just-released Cato Institute report on the same subject.

The report spends several pages debunking arguments against recreation fees, but my testimony concentrates on three arguments in favor. First, my proposal calls for half of all recreation fees to go the Treasury, which will help reduce the cost to taxpayers of managing federal lands.

Second, fees will lead to better land management. In particular, dispersed recreationists (whose activities today are, by law, fee-free) prefer landscapes that have healthy, natural ecosystems; diverse wildlife habitat; and clean water. So dispersed recreation fees will give managers incentives to provide more of those things.

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Back in the Air Again

The Antiplanner is traveling to Washington DC today where I’ll testify tomorrow before the House Public Lands Subcommittee on federal land recreation fees. By an extraordinary coincidence, tomorrow the Cato Institute will release my policy paper recommending that Congress allow the Forest Service, Park Service, and other public land agencies to charge recreationists fair market value to use the public lands.

On Wednesday, I’ll participate at a Hill briefing on transportation issues. By a not-so-extraordinary coincidence, Cato will release my new policy paper arguing that the “New Starts” program of federal funding for new rail transit projects gives transit agencies incentives to develop high-cost, rather than low-cost solutions for transit. The paper reviews, among other plans, Maryland’s Purple Line light-rail proposal and shows that it will cause more congestion, use more energy, and emit more pollution than not building it–points that should already be familiar to Antiplanner readers.

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Forest Planning & Transit Planning

In 1985, the Hoosier Environmental Council hired the Antiplanner to review the Hoosier National Forest plan, which called for clearcutting most of the southern Indiana federal forest. My review uncovered a document admitting that planners had fabricated data to justify money-losing timber sales. Looking at the plan that was then in effect, I discovered that the forest had attempted to meet legal requirements for public involvement by having the forest’s own soils scientist and biologist review the plan.

Wildflowers in the Hoosier National Forest. Forest Service photo.

Since this proved that the existing plan was illegal, and the proposed new plan was not credible, the Forest Service responded to my visit by shutting down the Hoosier Forest’s timber program for more than a decade. Even after that time, it cut very little timber compared to what it had been cutting before 1985.

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