Our Public Lands Must Not Go Up in Smoke
State Senator Doug Whitsett newsletter 9/8/15
The scope of the mismanagement of our more than 300
million acres of U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau
of Land Management (BLM) federal lands was once again
made evident by the smoke-filled August skies. Our
timber and rangeland resources have been incinerated by
multiple, enormous wildfires raging out of control in
most of the western states.
According to the National
Interagency Fire Center, over
eight million acres had burned as of the beginning
Annual greenhouse gas emissions from wildfires dwarfs
our nation’s emissions from the combustion of fossil
fuels. Their massive destruction and wholesale pollution
has become an annual and ever-enlarging consequence of
failed federal resource management.
Those repetitious wildfires are serving to focus the
attention of a rapidly growing group of western
legislators on the need to change the scope of federal
land management. Many state legislators now believe the
transfer of federal lands into state ownership is the
method of choice for accomplishing that goal. I
The U.S. Government controlled more than 90 percent of
the land in 10 mid-western and southern states for
decades. Missouri Democrat Senator Thomas Hart Benton
struggled for more than 30 years to successfully rectify
that untenable situation. Largely due to his efforts,
the U.S. government has already transferred all but
about five percent of federal land ownership, in the
states east of the Rocky Mountains, to the private
sector and to state governments.
However, our federal government
continues to own more than 50 percent of all the land in
the 12 most western states. According to a recent
60 Minutes documentary, that
land contains more than $150 trillion in mineral
resources and more recoverable oil and gas than the rest
of the world combined. It also encompasses the
preponderance of our nation’s public forest, grazing and
Naysayers tell us the population in states east of the
Rockies want “their” public lands preserved for the
future at all costs. We might suggest that they sell
some of their own private and state owned lands to the
federal government to be “saved” for their posterity.
Other pessimists say the states do not have the scope of
management skills to oversee such vast areas. They worry
the cost of resource supervision would be too great for
the states to bear.
It is true that the western states currently manage much
less public trust lands than their federal counterparts.
Most states received ownership of between five and 10
percent of their land mass when they obtained statehood.
That public trust land is generally fragmented,
separated by long distances and difficult to oversee.
And it is also true that many of us are not unwavering
supporters of current methods used to manage our state
trust lands. But the fact of the matter is that states
are currently doing an exponentially better job of
managing their public trust resources than their federal
According to the Congressional General Accounting Office
(GAO), the federal government generates only 73 cents in
revenue for every dollar spent on resource management.
Incredibly, it loses 27 cents of every dollar spent on
managing the most valuable public estate on the planet.
Western state governments can and
already are doing better. According to a recent Property
and Environment Research Center (PERC) report,
on on average, the western states generate more than $14
in revenue for every dollar spent on resource
management. Despite the fragmented nature of state trust
resources, western states generate more than 50 times
more net revenue than the federal government for every
dollar spent on public land management.
Federal lands are required by law
to be managed for multiple use. The
1960 Multiple-Use Sustainable
Yield Act mandates how
the USFS manages its resources, including timber
harvest, livestock grazing, mineral extraction and
recreation. The Federal
Land and Policy Management Act of 1976 similarly
regulates BLM management.
It turns out that managers of that federal land lose
money on all four of the mandated multiple uses! But at
the same time, state resource managers make significant
profits from all four sectors.
The PERC Report found that the USFS loses nearly $150 on
each one thousand board feet of timber it sells in
Montana and Idaho while the BLM loses nearly $200. On
average, state trust lands make a profit of about $115
per thousand board feet of timber marketed in those
states. The difference is stark! Management of federal
timber harvest sales costs between $260 and $315 more
per thousand board feet of harvested timber.
According to the PERC Report and GAO data, the USFS
loses 90 cents of every dollar spent on grazing
management. It generates only about six cents per acre
on its forest rangeland.
The BLM does only slightly better, losing 86 cents per
dollar spent on grazing management. That agency
generates about eight cents per acre of rangeland
In contrast, average state trust lands generate nearly
$5 in revenue for each dollar spent on state grazing
management. The state agencies earn more than $1.60 per
acre managed. The state’s return per acre, on grazing
trust lands, is more than 20 times better than that of
the federal government.
Federal performance in managing recreation is even more
abysmal. The USFS and BLM lose about 75 cents on every
dollar spent on recreation management. State trust lands
are nearly 30 times more cost efficient, earning nearly
$7 on each management dollar spent on recreation.
The federal performance on the management of mineral
extraction is a little better. Those federal agencies
earn nearly $20 for each dollar spent on resource
However, on average, state trust lands earn nearly $140
in revenue for each dollar spent on mineral extraction.
Once again, the states are outperforming the federal
government by a margin of about seven to one.
According to the PERC report, depending upon their
location, trust lands that are managed by western states
generally earn from four to 10 times more per acre, for
local communities, than lands held in the federal
estate. And state-managed trust lands return more than
10 times more revenue, per full-time employee, than the
At least 10 western states have passed resolutions,
enacted laws, or have appropriated money for studies in
order to move forward with the transfer of federal lands
to state ownership and management.
It is long past time for Oregon political leaders to get
serious in their efforts to address our state’s immense
natural resource issues.
Please remember--if we do not stand up for rural Oregon,
no one will.
Senate District 28
I Phone: 503-986-1728
Address: 900 Court St NE, S-311, Salem, OR, 97301