The recent designation of new wilderness areas creates new issues and this article takes a look at some of them.
"This legislation guarantees that we will not take our forests, rivers, oceans, national parks, monuments and wilderness areas for granted, but rather we will set them aside and guard their sanctity for everyone to share. That's something all Americans can support." Those were the words of President Barack Obama on March 30 when he signed the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act that placed an additional 2 million acres of public land under the federal government's most stringent use restrictions. To anyone who knows the record of public land management, however, these words of preservation and unanimous support ring hollow.
“If we used a measure like our stock indexes as a public land management barometer, it would be lower than the Dow Jones. Consider three measures of public land stewardship.
“Environmental Irresponsibility--Decades of fire suppression by the Forest Service have disrupted natural fire cycles and turned many western forests into tinderboxes waiting to burn. Dense stands of spindly deadfall and underbrush now occupy land once characterized by open savannahs and large, widely spaced trees. One result is larger, more intense fires that burn the publicly owned forests to the ground. Indeed, by the Forest Service's own estimates, 90 to 200 million acres of federal forests are at high risk of burning in catastrophic fire events. Bans on thinning and salvage harvesting have not only exacerbated the fire danger in public forests but it has also left them more susceptible to disease, insects and high winds. Not only do the fires put enormous amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, the fact that the forests are dead or dying means that they are not sequestering carbon, as healthy ones do.
"Fiscal Irresponsibility--What makes the ecological mismanagement of federal lands even more difficult to swallow is the price tag that comes with it. Every year, U.S. taxpayers spend billions of dollars on public land management, but the way in which these funds are allocated--through the congressional budgeting process--ensures the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service respond to the will of politicians.
“The result is what has been called "park barrel politics," which persists while the National Park Service maintains an estimated $9 billion backlog of construction and maintenance projects. Lest you think financial mismanagement is confined to the Park Service, consider that between 2006 and 2008 the Forest Service lost on average $3.58 billion each year. Similarly, the Government Accountability Office testified in Congress that in 2004 the BLM earned approximately $12 million in grazing revenues but spent $58 million implementing its grazing program.”