I only laugh to keep from weeping. The LA Times reports:
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell says she will recommend that President Obama act alone if necessary to create new national monuments and sidestep a gridlocked Congress that has failed to address dozens of public lands bills.
Jewell said the logjam on Capitol Hill has created a conservation backlog, and she warned that the Obama administration would not “hold its breath forever” waiting for lawmakers to act.
“The president will not hesitate,” Jewell said in an interview in San Francisco last week. “I can tell you that there are places that are ripe for setting aside, with a tremendous groundswell of public support.”
Congress has not added any acreage to the national park or wilderness systems since 2010. Jewell blamed ramped-up rhetoric in Washington for the impasse.
Yes, and thank goodness for that. I would point out to Secretary Jewell that the “logjam on Capitol Hill” is not what has created a “conservation backlog” across the American landscape. The conservation backlog is what has created a “conservation backlog.” The Department of Interior is in charge of most of the full third of the surface area of the United States that the federal government already keeps under its control, and it has quite enough trouble managing that effectively.
For FY2010, Interior made a rough estimate of a deferred maintenance backlog of ‘somewhere between’ $13 billion and $19 billion; in FY2012, the top ten most visited national parks alone had a backlog of $2.6 billion. All of this deferred maintenance often results in environmental degradations, oversights, and inefficiencies, and Secretary Jewell’s solution to these many problems already right under her nose is to… add more land? Gee, great idea.
From where exactly is the money for all of this additional stewardship supposed to come? Maybe, instead of allocating hundreds of millions of dollars every year for the acquisition of new lands (via the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, which gets most of its cash from oil-and-gas revenues), the government should devote some of this money to the better maintenance and operation of the lands it already owns, no?
Perhaps one of the worst aspects of the constantly metastasizing government estate is that it allows the federal bureaucracy to impose whatever top-down land-use policies are in vogue in Washington and micromanage huge swaths of the American landscape, with sometimes devastating unintended consequences (hint: the ultra-ravaging wildfires of the past few years are the result of neither climate change nor coincidence, as much as big-government environmentalists might want you to think otherwise) and/or major opportunity costs (case in point: the energy industry in Nevada).
Politicians just love to stand in front of park and monument grand openings in their districts and states, and are constantly trying to sneak them in to bigger bills; creating a federal park is a great opportunity for a cool photo op and a chance to tout how much said politicians cares about “conservation” or “the environment” or “cultural heritage.” The LA Times piece points to some of the latest instances of unfortunate phenomenon:
Among the public events on Jewell’s schedule was a visit to the 1,255-acre Stornetta Public Lands site on the Mendocino County coast, north of Point Arena. Several members of the California congressional delegation have proposed adding the site to the California Coastal National Monument.
It’s one of many pending federal bills that would conserve land in California. One bill would expand the boundary of Yosemite National Park, and another would create a national monument in the San Gabriel Mountains.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has proposed sweeping legislation that would add thousands of acres to Joshua Tree and Death Valley national parks and the Mojave National Preserve, protect 74 miles of waterways as wild and scenic rivers, designate 248,000 acres as wilderness and create the Sand to Snow National Monument running from the floor of the Coachella Valley to the peak of Mt. San Gorgonio.
But those are some mighty loose definitions of “conserve” and “protect,” if you ask me, because once the new land is added to the national network, you suddenly have an even bigger federal estate and even less money to distribute for mindful stewardship. Meanwhile, the federal government too often resists selling or leasing its lands to productive, private uses, including private-public park partnerships that can fully fund themselves minus the prohibitive bureaucracy, as well as generate revenue for the federal government. This is not rocket science.
Secretary Jewell is evidently threatening to recommend to President Obama that he make use of the Antiquities Act of 1906 to take control of still more land via executive order, but the American landscape could be much better off if faux-conservationists would take to heart that big government isn’t the answer for everything, and that in fact, it’s the answer for relatively few things.