Failing Federal Land Management - Déjà Vu All Over Again

Across the rural United States today, especially in the West, counties and communities are being driven into poverty and devastation because of the mismanagement of federal land by distant, unaccountable bureaucracies. A May 2017 report by the Wall Street Journal showed that America’s rural communities rank worst in the country measured by unemployment, drug and alcohol abuse, crime, poor health, and poverty. That is no coincidence.rural-america.png

At the same time, wealthy foundations and the outdoor recreation industry are funding so-called “conservation” and “sportsmens” organizations to run glitzy publicity campaigns opposing reforms that would enable better local management of public lands. They intentionally misrepresent and skew the debate. Their agenda ignores the harsh reality of the situation and conveniently never mentions the plight and suffering of ordinary people in our country’s rural communities.

American Lands Council is the only national organization working exclusively to advocate for better, more accountable, locally driven management of America’s public lands.

The work of American Lands Council to challenge and reform the failing federal management model is needed now more than ever.  In fact, ALC is now working to encourage federal agencies and their managers to work more effectively with counties and states across the nation. To do that, we urgently need your support. (Click here to donate now!)

ALC encourages federal land managers to work together with our counties, rural communities, timber, ranching and mining industries to advocate responsible management of our federal and state public lands. While ALC knows the ultimate solution is to institute greater local control of how our public lands are managed, we also recognize the need to work on a host of other immediate reforms to support rural economies, protect land based livelihoods, and restore funding to schools. gsp.jpg

In order to accomplish this, ALC is committed to working with all who seek viable solutions to our current unsatisfactory land management situation. We believe responsible land management includes logging, grazing and mining because revenues from these industries support the proper care of our lands as well as benefit our rural communities.

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All is not well with America's public lands

Tomorrow and Saturday (May 19-20) the Beartooth Front Community Forum – “a grassroots, nonpartisan organization that seeks to retain and enhance the quality of life in the Red Lodge, Montana area”  – will host a two-day event called “Knowing the Land”. 

The implication, for the uninitiated, is that this organization provides a neutral platform for speakers to engage with a public audience.  However, the lineup of topics and speakers indicates this meeting is designed to put the failing federal land management model on a pedestal, pat bureaucrats and environmentalists on the back, and promote the narrow views of the “lock it up and let it burn” crowd who are sponsoring this meeting.Copper King Fire, 2016

If the organizers genuinely intend to host an informed discussion or even a debate about the best path forward for America’s public lands in the context of this forum, why not include other points of view that tackle the tough issues head on?

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A Double Check on Presidential Authority

Today the American Lands Council welcomes President Trump's Executive Order to review multiple monuments designated under the Antiquities Act.

In his remarks today, President Trump stated emphatically, "The Antiquities Act does not give the federal government unlimited power to lock up millions of acres of land and water, and it’s time we ended this abusive practice."trumpeo42617.jpg

Commenting on the Executive Order, Jennifer Fielder, CEO of the American Lands Council, stated:

President Trump's executive order looks to uphold the original intent of the Antiquities Act and offer a much needed double-check on past, present, and future presidential authority. The increasingly massive acreages that have been unilaterally placed under "national monument" designations calls attention to the need to restore a sensible process for protecting important  cultural resources while preventing abuse of power. We applaud President Trump for recognizing the importance of applying the Antiquities Act appropriately and taking steps to stop it from being used as a tool to threaten western states and arbitrarily lock the public out of millions of acres of our public lands.

Over the next 120 days, Secretary Zinke will be conducting the review. In briefing comments yesterday, Zinke explained that the Antiquities Act itself states that its purview is to “designate the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”

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TPL Progress in 2017

So far, 2017 has seen a great deal of activity in Western states around the issue of the transfer of federal land to willing states.  Many western state Representatives and Senators have introduced legislation to consider and study the possibility.

In Montana, two proposed (joint) resolutions were introduced in opposition to the idea but were roundly rejected by the House and Senate committees in late February. Utah’s HB407 would set up a framework in the state to keep public lands public.  

At the national level, in January the U.S. House made a simple change in its procedural rules that will facilitate bringing public land management closer to home. Currently, there are discussions of the budget for the federal government’s 2018 Fiscal Year.  In his comments on the budget, Rob Bishop, Chairman of the House National Resources Committee, stated “It is time to reconsider how the federal government can be more responsive to the needs of the nation’s counties and provide for them a greater say over how these lands in their backyards are managed.” (Bishop’s remarks are well worth reading.)

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WOTUS overturned! Now pardon its victims

(Note: this has been edited for clarification and detail. 3/2/17) 

 

GREAT NEWS!!! Today, President Trump has issued an executive order to "pave the way" to overturn the Obama Administration's "Waters of the US" (WOTUS) rule.

Tragic news :( Montana resident Joe Robertson is currently in federal PRISON for “violating” the same WOTUS rule that is soon to be a non-rule. In an outrageous miscarriage of justice, last year the WOTUS rule was used to incarcerate this disabled, 78-year old Navy veteran.

Joe's “crime”? He created a series of small ponds near his isolated mountain home which, by the way, is located about 60 miles from the nearest actual “Water of the United States”. The alleged pollution was not established by any evidence at the trial. 

Joe didn’t harm the environment, he helped it. Joe didn’t impact a “water of the U.S.” in any way. But that didn’t stop a ridiculously heavy handed EPA and a notorious environmental activist federal judge from using the WOTUS “non-rule” to throw poor old Joe into the clink.

Now, six months into an 18-month sentence to federal prison, in addition to tens of thousands of dollars in fines, Joe continues to suffer from declining health. , confusion, and depression. He has reportedly had two strokes since being sentenced last summer. He was ripped from his VA medical treatment and separated from his service dog Sasha. He was transferred to numerous prisons throughout the west, thrown in solitary confinement, stripped of his veteran’s pension and Social Security benefits, unlawfully deprived of his right to be present when sensitive legal mail from his lawyer was opened, and barred from having visits from family and friends. 

President Trump rightly called WOTUS "one of the worst examples of federal regulation." He continued:

it has truly run amok, and is one of the rules most strongly opposed by farmers, ranchers and agricultural workers all across our land. It's prohibiting them from being allowed to do what they're supposed to be doing. It's been a disaster.   

WOTUS led to numerous Americans being needlessly hassled and persecuted by the federal government. Trump mentioned the case of Andy Johnson, whose case was represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation and successfully overturned:

“In one case in a Wyoming, a rancher was fined $37,000 a day by the EPA for digging a small watering hole for his cattle. His land. These abuses were, and are, why such incredible opposition to this rule from the hundreds of organizations took place in all 50 states.”   

On the back of today's Executive Order, Joe - and everyone else persecuted under this rule - deserves an immediate, unconditional federal pardon, and compensation for wrongful imprisonment.

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Quiet Waters: Silencing Montana's People Too?

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Last year, a group calling itself Backcountry Hunters and Anglers (BHA) submitted the “Quiet Waters Initiative” petition to Montana’s Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission (FWP Commission).

Couched in terms of avoiding future conflict, the BHA portrayed its petition as being “proactive” and forward thinking, attempting to regulate a future that hasn’t yet come to fruition. At its core, though, it equates to another “lock-it-up” land grab from the political left, this time on public waters instead of public lands. The proposal is based on conjecture rather than evidence.

mtfwpq.pngHundreds of concerned outdoor enthusiasts have flooded the Commission’s hearing rooms to voice opposition. Unfortunately, Commission members are appointed by the Governor, not elected by the people. As such their level of accountability to the people is nothing like that of an elected representative. Regardless of the extent of public comment against it (as well as the fact that the terms of several Commissioners have currently expired), the Quiet Waters Initiative is still very much on the table and the Commission may still make it a miserable reality.  (The public comment period ends on February 12, 2017.)

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115th Congress Creates Opportunity for Public Lands Reform

PRESS RELEASE - for immediate release

January 13, 2017

The American Lands Council welcomes the members of the 115th U.S. Congress, who began their legislative session last week in Washington, DC. One of Congress’s first orders of business was to pass changes to its governing and procedural rules in House Resolution 5 (H. Res.5).

The ALC calls attention to a provision within H. Res. 5 that indicates foresight and willingness on the part of the 115th U.S. Congress to consider and hopefully undertake serious reforms to improve how public lands are managed within the U.S.:

“In the One Hundred Fifteenth Congress, for all purposes in the House, a provision in a bill or joint resolution, or in an amendment thereto or a conference report thereon, requiring or authorizing a conveyance of Federal land to a State, local government, or tribal entity shall not be considered as providing new budget authority, decreasing revenues, increasing mandatory spending, or increasing outlays.”  (Page 35, H. Res.5, 2017)

Jennifer Fielder, CEO of the American Lands Council, remarked:
"The 115th Congress is off to a great start with this simple change in its procedural rules to facilitate bringing public land management closer to home. It is a refreshing sign of hope for the vast number of Americans who are concerned and outraged about the flagrant disregard by the U.S. federal government when it comes to how federally controlled public lands have been mismanaged on their watch. The balance has tipped too far towards distant, unaccountable bureaucracy and the results have been devastating to our rivers, prairies, forests, and wildlife.

"It is imperative to reverse the increasingly unhealthy, unsafe, inaccessible, and unproductive conditions that characterize federal lands today, and nobody is more eager to improve stewardship than the States where these lands are located. This change in Congressional rules is a step in the right direction for every American who desires a healthy environment, abundant and accessible recreation, and safe, vibrant communities."

Fielder specifically addressed claims that this change in rules amounts to “fiscal irresponsibility”, stating:

"In the past several decades, the U.S. federal government has been increasingly negligent in its public land stewardship, resulting in increased costs, declining revenue streams, and the demise of local communities.

"Just consider, the U.S. Forest Service now is a net drain on the U.S. taxpayer, whereas it formerly made a net contribution to local communities and the U.S. Treasury. Formerly prosperous communities which once thrived have now been reduced to poverty and reliance on federal handouts that amount to nothing more than 'western welfare' subsidized by eastern States."

ENDS

The American Lands Council (www.americanlandscouncil.org) is comprised of elected officials, resource experts, local governments, nonprofit organizations, public land users and citizens. The ALC seeks constitutionally-sound solutions to achieve responsible public access, environmental health and economic productivity on the federally controlled public lands within each State.

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ALC Comments on Senate Confirmation Hearing for Congressman Zinke

Ryan Zinke at CPAC, 2016"Congratulations to Congressman Ryan Zinke, a fellow Montanan, for his nomination to head the U.S. Department of the Interior,” said Jennifer Fielder, CEO of the American Lands Council.

"In remarks made at the Senate's Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing [video link] [Zinke's written remarks (PDF)] yesterday, Congressman Zinke spoke eloquently about the diverse purposes that can be served by America’s public lands," said Fielder.

"Yet the reality today is that those purposes are not being fulfilled. Indeed, the federal government’s mismanagement of those lands, particularly in the western USA, has led to the demise of people’s livelihoods as well as environmental degradation — at an immense cost to the U.S. taxpayer."

Fielder explained: "We earnestly hope that Congressman Zinke will work to change this situation by working with local communities and states, as he has stated. While he adamantly maintained during the hearing that he opposes the transfer of public lands, it is still of utmost importance that he enables the U.S. Department of the Interior to tackle federal mismanagement head-on. This means implementing drastic reforms, imposing targets and timetables, and supporting the possibility and practicality of decentralized management, whether that is through local or state entities." 

(Photo credit: Gage Skidmore on Flickr)

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Action Alert: Potential Closure of Montana Waters

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UPDATE (1/11/2017):  The comment period has been extended to February 12, 2017. 

The ALC urges Montana citizens to make their voices heard on proposed closures and restrictions on Montana’s waterways, entitled the “Quiet Waters Initiative”, before the quickly approaching deadline of January 13, 2017river fishing

Several public meetings are being held across the state in the next few days (see below), and email comments can be sent to: QuietWaters@mt.gov

The “Quiet Waters Initiative” is a proposed change in rules [PDF] by the Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks Commission (FWPC) which has been trundling along quietly in the background for some months now. It was unanimously voted upon by FWPC in response to a petition by the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.

Rather than being based on compelling, site-specific evidence, it appears to be a speculative move to limit future access by enacting massive and unnecessary closures and restrictions on many key waterways in the state.

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No Safety For You!

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los-alamos-fire.jpgNO SAFETY FOR YOU! Otero County New Mexico developed a wildfire mitigation plan to keep their communities safe. But the federal government has taken them to court over it.

Here's the story as published in a recent AP article at the Washington Times…

 

By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN - Associated Press - Friday, December 9, 2016

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - A court ruling has dashed any hopes one southern New Mexico county had to address fire danger on national forest lands due to the inaction of the federal government.

The federal appeals court in Denver found that Otero County’s resolution to treat overgrown areas of the Lincoln National Forest along with a state statute enabling counties to take action under certain circumstances conflicted with federal law.

A 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel said the case was a question of constitutional power and that federal law pre-empted both the state statute and the county’s resolution.

New Mexico enacted the so called “self-help” law for local communities in 2001, just months after a prescribed fire on federal land escaped from managers and raced across tinder-dry mountainsides and into Los Alamos. The town was evacuated before the flames destroyed hundreds of homes and forced the temporary closure of one of the nation’s premiere nuclear weapons laboratories.

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