Uncle Sam is the largest land owner west of the Rockies, with 660,000,000 acres of land, an area of nearly ten times the size of the United Kingdom. That accounts for 29 percent of the country’s landmass, and only grows with the federal government amassing ever larger tracts of land.
The government already owns half of the West. Really. One entity with so many other responsibilities cannot efficiently manage such a large quantity of land.
For this reason, U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), Chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, has put forward the Protecting America’s Recreation and Conservation (PARC) Act for the purpose of empowering states to better manage where the federal government has failed. The PARC Act is a set of reforms to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a Great Society era program that enables the federal mismanagement of half the West.
Rep. Bishop said in a statement, “The LWCF’s current lopsided funding ratio makes limited funds available to establish recreation projects and facilities that can be responsibly managed and maintained by State and local entities while continuing to vastly expand the federal estate,” Bishop said. “Even more troubling on the federal side is that the money is being spent with little transparency, scant oversight, and minimal local input.”
While Rep. Bishop has acted to reform LWCF, his legislation also seeks to restrict land acquisition by the federal government, limiting the Obama Administration’s efforts purchase even more land.
On the same day, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) introduced H.R. 3946, the Protecting Local Communities from Executive Overreach Act. The Act narrows the scope of the Antiquities Act of 1906 to prevent this and future Presidents from acting unilaterally in seizing certain lands to be designated as “monuments”. The President’s monuments are designed to restrict the economic activity that his vested interests have fought for years.
According to Gosar, President Obama seized 1.25 million acres of land, with another 1.7 million acres in jeopardy. The legislation specifically requires the federal government to attain community consent before action, and limits the parcels to 5,000 acres. This prevents the federal government from robbing states of their autonomy and crippling economic activity that creates jobs and tax revenue.
The two acts are complimentary of each other, and attempt to rectify the shameless legacy building President Obama is doing at the expense of Western Americans, who suffer this and other economic hardships as a result. Massive amounts of natural resources remain out of reach because the President is repaying campaign pledges to environmentalists. These very environmentalists rely on the same minerals, timber and agriculture that everybody else relies on, but this precludes many in the West from benefiting from their own resources.
Pursuing both bills as a unified policy sends the message that we can maintain conservation efforts and natural treasures without locking the U.S. into artificial scarcity. Ultimately, states should be given control of the lands within their borders, where environmental concerns can be balanced with economic ones.
State governments have long accepted the transfer of lands from federal control to state control. Local considerations can better determine their own interests in purposing land. The unified pursuit of both bills, as well as transferring more land to the states would ensure that true conservationism could occur, while addressing the needs of the communities that are impacted.
Fortunately, Congress may have the opportunity in the weeks ahead to prevent future land grabs by including a rider by Gosar and Bishop. The upcoming omnibus federal government funding bill provides the perfect opportunity for Congress to rein in the President on this important issue, and reassert its Article One power of the purse.
Dustin Howard is a contributing editor for the Americans for Limited Government.