Welcome News from the Department of the Interior about Federal Lands – But Wouldn’t It Be Easier to Leave It to the States?
The U.S. Department of Interior has made announcements in the past month that while positive, underscore why transferring select portions of the vast tracts of federal land in the American West to state control is long overdue. Last month U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, signed two Secretarial orders designed to increase public access to federal lands for recreational use. The press release publicizing the orders can be found here, and the text for the two orders – Secretarial Order 3366 and Secretarial Order 3365 – can be found here and here. The orders are designed to increase access to public lands for recreational purposes. Secretarial Order 3366 directs specific bureaus within the Department to create plans to develop and/or expand recreational opportunities on public lands. Secretarial Order 3365 calls for the establishment of a Senior National Adviser to the Secretary for Recreation. Rick May, who has been with the Department since 2017 will be the first to occupy this new position. Limited access to public lands both for recreation and safety purposes has been an issue that has vexed many residents living in western states where federal control of public lands exceeds 80 percent in some states. Read more about the subject here.
Just this week, the Department of the Interior (DOI) announced that it would issue $14 million in payments for the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act extension (SRS). The DOI announcement can be accessed here. The SRS program was reauthorized for fiscal year 2018 and retroactively for fiscal year 2017 in the recent Omnibus spending bill, however, retroactive payments for fiscal year 2016 were not included. The federal money is welcomed by the counties that rely on it to fund schools and a variety of other county services, but the larger issue remains. SRS payments have historically fallen victim to Congressional budget battles making them an unreliable source of income that is structured to provide states with revenues they cannot earn because so much of their land mass is owned by the federal government.
We applaud the steps that the U.S. Department of the Interior has taken in the past few weeks, but they leave us wondering if a more practical solution might be for states to control a greater percentage of the land within their borders and with it their futures. Such a plan has worked in Canada’s northernmost territories – read more here. Control of the lands within a state’s borders is the most basic tenet of federalism which is addressed here.