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Public Lands System Essay, Research Paper

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 hold a wide diversity of resources, from timber, and grazing lands

found on the surface to a mass of oil, natural gas, and minerals laying 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 where 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 environment of our society. 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 say, 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). Therefor by allowing these old laws to remain they are pulling away from

there 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 park. There is the 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 administer 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 park. 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 have effects that extend beyond there immediate

boundaries. Yellowstone Park has to dispose of nearly 7000 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.

Also, provide 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, because 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 lives 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 land 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 ?Nonconsuptive" 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 "Nonconsuptive" users was estimated

at around $200,000,000. Surely it can easily be seen the economic value of

wildlife, but there is also an indescribable entrinsic value that can be given

to them to. But improving habitat for wildlife improves more then 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

which 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 hardrock mineral deposits. The laws goal was to encourage the

region’s development, Congress offered public lands for the taking by

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 mined

site once the minerals are gone, preventing wastes from polluting surrounding

lands and nearby streams. Former Interior Secretary Stewart L. Udall says,

" The hardrock 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 that 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 EPA is now spending $40,000

a day to control cyanide leaking form a Summitville Colo., 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 I 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. 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 charges a curtain 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 excempt 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. BLM

is principally seen by the public 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 basically based on the management

and conditions of the range lands that are under their control. So the BLM sets

below-market livestock grazing fees and loose federal regulations of how

ranchers mangage 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 give 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. Of course

this is the classic Tragedy of the Commons. 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. And some

simple and broad solutions to the problems. You could not even start to give all

of the issues and possible solutions for a single one of the problems that I

addressed in a paper of this length. But for an overall solution the government

needs to redefine it’s older laws, so that the government 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 then 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. And with all these regulations in

place, and strict guidelines to the extent of extraction of natural resources,

the environment, and ecosystems will improve.

Arrandale, Tom. "Public Land Policy." CQ Researcher 28 (1994):

531-540. Beatley, Timothy. Ethical Land Use: Principles of Policy and Planning.

Baltimore: John Hopkins UP, 1994. Houston, Douglas. "Ecosystems of Natinal

Parks." Science 172 (1971): 648-651. Kusler, Jon. Regulating Sensitive

Lands. Cambridge: Ballinger, 1980. United States. Bueau of Land Management.

Issues for the 90’s., 1989. Wondolleck, Julia. Public Lands Conflict and

Resolution: Managing National Forest Disputes. New York: Plenum, 1988.

Management of the BLM’s Public Lands System

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