Management of the BLM’s Public Lands System.
The government has control of over one-third of the nation’s land, and 398 million acres of that is controlled by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM 6). This land holds a wide diversity of resources, from timber and grazing lands found on the surface, to a mass of oil, natural gas, and minerals lying below the earth. The history of these lands is hardly a dull story, because it is the story of the taming of the “Wild West”. Should the BLM though, still be controlling these lands under the same laws that were put in affect to establish the “Western frontier”?
I feel that a radical reevaluation of these laws needs to take place, in order to adapt them to the changing demographic and technological advancements of our society. This topic is of importance to park and recreation professionals because it will directly effect how the lands that they are using for parks, are going to be used. The laws that are remaining are allowing companies to hurt the land, which is against the mission statement of the BLM.
The BLM mission statement says, “the Bureau is responsible for the balanced management of the public lands and resources and their various values so that they are considered in a combination that will best serve the American people. Management is based upon the principles of multiple use and sustained yield; a combination of uses that takes into account the long-term needs of future generations for renewable and nonrenewable resources. These resources include recreation, land, timber, minerals, watershed, fish and wildlife, wilderness, and natural, scenic, scientific and cultural values” (BLM 7).
Therefore by allowing these old laws to remain they are pulling away from their mission statement. Throughout the 80’s the Bureau of Land Management developed a host of programs and emphasized a number of others – outdoor recreation, wildlife and fisheries, toxic materials management, and wetland enhancement, to name a few – but there are still many problems that must be addressed. Due to the increasing demand for outdoor recreation, there has been an overcrowding in our local, state, and national parks. There is a demand for BLM to do more in outdoor recreation.
Eight of the 10 states with the highest population growth between 1970 and 1980 were states with substantial acreages of public lands administered by the BLM (BLM 12). The visitation to those lands has increased nearly three-fold in the past 20 years, and there is an expected increase of between 40 and 60 percent by the year 2000 (BLM 12). The amount of people that visit our park system each year is having a profound effect on the ecosystem of the parks. An ecosystem can only absorb the effects of a small number of man-made facilities on it.
The number of large complexes that the public wants in their parks has effects that extend beyond there immediate boundaries. Yellowstone Park has to dispose of nearly 7,000 tons of garbage every year (Houston 3). The BLM needs to expand efforts to maintain facilities to protect public investments and the health and safety of the visiting public. In addition to providing additional facilities with Federal funding and private sector concessions to meet the growing outdoor recreation demands.
This would allow more destinations for the public that are seeking an outdoor experience, causing the crowding to become less dense because the users would be more widely distributed. Setting more public lands aside for parks would preserve that land for the future. Seeing that a park on BLM lands would require a greater on-the-ground presence, to monitor its use. A problem that is closely related to that of outdoor recreation is providing a suitable habitat for the large diversity of animals that live on the BLM’s Public Lands System.
Many of these animals are available to the hunter, trapper and fisherman; some are threatened or endangered; most contribute to the pleasure of wildlife viewing; all contribute to the ecological diversity of the Public Land System (BLM 14). With so much land under the control of the BLM, the bureau manages more wildlife habitat than any other agency or group in the United States. The wide diversity of lands that is under their control supports over 3,000 species of animals and an untold number of plants and invertebrate species.
Public lands, wildlife and fisheries resources are important to the American Economy. For instance, during the 1985-1986 season, over 5 million hunter use days occurred, with hunters spending an estimated $145,000,000. As for fishing, there where over 3 million days at an estimated $55,000,000 spent by fishers (BLM 14). Wildlife also contributed to enjoyment of the public lands for millions of campers, hikers, photographers and other users. These users spent over 230 million hours on the public lands ands waters during the 1985-1986 season.
The money put into the system by these users was estimated at around $200,000,000. Surely the economic value of wildlife can be seen, but there is also an indescribable intrinsic value that can be given to them to. Nevertheless improving habitat for wildlife improves more than just the wildlife; it helps out the whole ecosystem. For instance, wetland habitat improvements for wildlife also improve water flow and water quality for downstream users. Vegetative manipulation projects intended to improve big game forage also improve livestock forage and watershed conditions.
So it should be easily seen that habit improvements for the sake of wildlife would be not only a profitable change, but also an environmentally sound change. Another change that needs to occur on Federal Lands is a change of the General Mining Law of 1872 that was passed while the West was still being settled The 1872 mining law opens most public lands for mining if prospectors find gold, silver, copper or other valuable hard rock mineral deposits. The laws’ goal was to encourage the region’s development.
Congress offered public lands for the taking by the enterprising homesteader, stockmen, miners and loggers (Arrandale 531). The frontier closed a century ago, but the law still remains. On May 16, 1994 Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt was forced by the mining law to sell 1,949 acres of federal lands in Nevada to a Canadian-based mining company. The land that was sold held a gold supply of an estimated $10 billion. Surely the deeply indebted United States Government would prosper from a sale of that much gold, but by law the government was forced to sell it for $5 and acre.
The government received less then $10,000 for the deal (Arrandale 531). In relation to the mining law the government does not require the miners to restore the mined site once the minerals are gone. Which in turn would prevent wastes from polluting surrounding lands and nearby streams. Former Interior Secretary Stewart L. Udall says, ” The hard rock mining industry has traditionally been able to ‘externalize’ costs, as economist say, simply by abandoning its played-out mines rater then reclaiming them” (Arrandale 534). The fact that there is 500,000 abandoned mines, proves the last statement is true.
These mines are polluting 32 states because of the use of the new “heap leaching” technology that uses cyanide solutions to extract gold from ore. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is now spending $40,000 a day to control cyanide leaking from a Summitville, Colorado gold mine that a mining company abandoned (Arrandale 534). I feel that the United States Government needs to amend the mining law, so that it can address some of the previously mentioned problems. I feel that companies should be allowed to remove viable minerals but they should have regulations placed on them.
The U. S. Supreme Court and state courts have upheld state regulations of oil and gas operations to prevent waste (Kusler 147). Since minerals are of a fixed supply I feel that they should be regulated for future use. The mines that do extract a predetermined amount of minerals would also be required to restore the sight back to the natural state of the land, before mining was started. Not only would they be required to return the surface of the land, but also the underlying ground, so as it is not polluted.
But they would not receive this land for a mere $5 and acre, I propose that they be charged a certain percentage of the gold removed as rent for the land, for as long as they mine the land. Upon incorporation of all of these laws, which none of the current mines would be exempt from, I feel there would be a reduction of mines. With less mines mineral supplies would be preserved, and the price of minerals would go up, returning profit to the remaining mines, and supporting the government. Another area of the land managed by the BLM is rangeland.
Since rangelands account for nearly 162 million acres of public land, the nation’s rangelands are a vast source of renewable resources. Among many other values the range supports about 4 million head of livestock. Which is an important element in the economic well being of many rural communities and the almost 20,000 operators who depend on public land grazing to support them. The public principally sees BLM as manager of the public rangelands. The approval from the public for the BLM then is mostly related to their management of the grazing lands.
Support for the BLM is based on the management and conditions of the rangelands that are under their control. So the BLM sets below-market livestock grazing fees and loose federal regulations of how ranchers manage sheep and cattle on public lands. Ranchers now pay $1. 98 per “animal unit month”(AUM)- enough forage to feed one cow and a calf, five sheep or a horse for a month. On the other hand, privately owned ranges in the West, leased for nearly five times that amount, an average of $9. 25 per AUM (Arrandale 534). Having fees this low gives an incentive for the rancher to put more animals out to graze on the deteriorating land.
Why graze one cow on private land, when you can graze at least four on government land? Why should the ranchers care is they are destroying the public lands when they can move to a more productive spot when their land is destroyed? Because of this, taxpayers spend millions of dollars subsidizing the damage of public lands. Clearly, grazing does belong on public lands, because if done correctly you are simply harvesting a natural renewable resource. But when you allow money hungry cattle ranchers to graze as many cattle as they please, you begin destroying the land.
So I feel that there should be an environmental assessment of the grazing lands, to determine a sustainable AUM for the land, to insure there is no further damage sustained by the land. Once this is determined, you can charge them a fair price that is competitive with the price of private land. This way the government could produce more revenue for it self, while again protecting the land. These are just a few of the changes that need to occur on the public lands. However, for an overall solution the government needs to redefine it’s older laws, so that they can have better control over public lands.
Included with the changing of the laws would be a price increase for the resources that the government is basically, at the present time, giving away. When this occurs, it may help with the huge debt of the country, and by different means than taxing the common people of the country. This would require the rich mining companies, to actually pay for the gold that they are removing from the ground. With all these regulations in place, and strict guidelines to the extent of extraction of natural resources, the environment, and ecosystems will improve.