Saturday, May 2, 2015

Whose public land is it anyway?

You’d think by being a conservative Republican the belief that states have an inalienable right to own/manage/sell off as much land as they wish within their jurisdictions.

And normally I am as staunch a 10th Amendment supporter that is found north of the Mason-Dixon Line. (For those who are ready to open up a Google Search, the 10th Amendment is the one that reserves power to the states unless specifically granted to the federal government.)

However, don’t go and assume that because a person is both a Republican and a conservative (which I am) that he (or she) automatically gleefully awaits congressional approval to allow states to rape and pillage the natural resources and properties here-to-for once owned by the commonwealth of the U.S. of A.

Such is being sought and proposed by members of the Grand Old Party’s congressional delegation.

Some states – Utah, for example, which is demanding 20 million acres – the transfer of federal public lands could spell “access denied” to a whale lot of hunters, anglers, birders, hikers and other outdoorsy types.

A deep and abiding concern to a copious number of sportsmen, conservation and environmental groups centers on this “No Trespassing” threat to recreational access accompanied by such alternative universe signs saying “Fracking Welcome Here,” “Coal is Energy’s Future,” and “Beef – It’s what’s for Dinner.”

All stuff that fulfills states’ desires to achieve economic superiority regardless of the natural resources costs.

It’s an old story, certainly. Ever since states beyond the original 13 were being carved out of federal holdings the fledgling governments have ever sought more land.

And the story’s been widely covered over the years, too. As a for instance, the libertarian think tank CATO Institute opined on the subject back in 1997 that creating public trust lands “… would do more to improve fiscal and environmental management of public lands than would transferring them to the states.”

This has not stopped others from trying, of course.

By a 51 to 49 vote (almost entirely along party lines) in the U.S. Senate back in March, a non-binding and mostly on-paper position stated that transferring federal land to the states in some fashion was a right-fine, capital idea. And for the record, Ohio’s senior Senator, Democrat Party liberal Sherrod Brown voted “nay” while Republican Party conservative Rob Portman voted “aye.”

Still and though the budget amendment was pretty much entirely toothless it is still a vocal shout-out that a whole lot of powerful politicians are eager to allow the various and almost entirely Western states to get their greedy paws on everyone’s shared federal land heritage.

All of this being said the federal government really has done an inept job of working with the states on many sensitive issues of shared interest.

With a frequency that can make the most bureaucratic of bureaucrats blush, the federal government has repeatedly proven itself to be the bully on the land-ownership and management block.

Consequently states still chafe at wearing the federal government’s uncomfortable saddle. Thus anything that can tweak the nose of the federal government’s alphabetized list of land owners is a favored tactic of virtually every Western state.

Yet these same Western states have a lot of explaining and apologizing to do themselves. Same goes for all the armchair sportsmen and conservation organizations that are lathered up over any and all mention of land transfers.

The point is that folks in the West have all too often assumed such federal lands are their semi-private outdoors playgrounds. If anyone east of the Mississippi River wants to fish or hunt on these federal lands then, by golly, they’ll need to pay through the nose for a state-issued hunting or fishing license or any accompanying game tag.

Here’s a couple of for instances: A New Mexico general hunting license costs a resident $15 but for a non-resident it is $65. For a bear tag it is $47 and $260, respectively.

In Montana, for a resident to buy a “B-elk” tag costs $25. For a non-resident that same tag costs $278. Remember, too, that both sets of hunters may very well utilize federal land – land held in the commonwealth of the United States.

Wyoming non-resident anglers don’t get off the hook, either. For an annual fishing license a Wyoming resident pays out $24. Meanwhile a non-resident Wyoming angler will pay near four times as much: $92.

No one is going to dispute that states have the right to charge non-residents more to hunt and fish. I buy that, understanding how states are the managers of the fish and wildlife found within their borders.

Even so, state rightists cannot have the privilege of rummaging through the wallets of non-residents in order to discourage visitation. Not when they also are pleading for help in preserving their personal time on the outdoors playground owned by everyone.

So before I get all worked up about transferring federal land to states that will assuredly divvy up the best parts to those who’ll close the gates I want some assurances I’ll not only be welcome but that I won’t be robbed coming and going.

Something tells me, though, not to hold my breath.
Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

Jeff is the retired News-Herald reporter who  covered the earth sciences, the area's three county park systems and the outdoors for the newspaper. During his 30 years with The News-Herald Jeff was the recipient of more than 100 state, regional and national journalism awards. He also is a columnist and features writer for the Ohio Outdoor News, which is published every other week and details the outdoors happenings in the state.


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