The Federal Government “owns,” without Constitutional authority, much of the Fifty States – and oddly enough, far more of many of those states than it claims in the District of Columbia, the ONLY place it is authorized to own anything beyond military installations and postal and customs offices. One of the agencies which administers probably the largest part of that government land is the United States Forest Service, which controls 10 percent of the land in the Fifty States. And does a VERY bad job of administering (caring for) that land.
Independence Institute published an interesting article this week.
Taking an Ax to Traditional Forest Management
It talks at length about the problems with the USFS, and a little about WHY there are the problems, and then suggests creating “Charter Forests” the way “Charter Schools” have been established in many school districts in recent years.
That was very close to a concept I first offered to the voters of South Dakota when I ran for governor in 1994 (when I was young and REALLY stupid). South Dakota (unlike most of the West) only has parts of TWO national forests (and parts of three National Grasslands), but they take up a sizable chunk of the state, and the economy is impacted for both good and bad for the 130 years we’ve had them here.
My proposal was to “commercialize” these. (Not “privatize” because that has come to mean do things the government (stupid) way, just have a contractor do that instead of having government employees be stupid. The worst of two worlds.) I modified the proposal somewhat by specifying that it had to be non-profits and not for-profit companies, and that the companies be cooperatives so that there was a LOT of public participation. But the concept was simple: let the land remain in “federal” or “state” ownership, but operating them: managing and caring for them, would be in the hands of this non-profit cooperative association that would break-even and provide the materials and services to its members and to the general public.
The contract or agreement between the USFS (or USDA, its parent) and the State of South Dakota and the cooperative association would specify the objectives, goals, and limits – BUT NOT THE METHODS OF ACHIEVING THOSE things – and some form of insurance or surety would be maintained (just like mining companies and landfills do) to protect against negligence and gross (that is, governmental-level) stupidity. The association would be freed from the six or eight levels of “supervision” that the current Forest/Grassland Supervisors in Custer and Fort Pierre and Bison and such “enjoy.” (Think about the heirarchy: makes the Roman Catholic Church look flat: District Ranger, Forest Supervisor, Regional Supervisor, Chief of the USFS, Deputy Undersecretary, Undersecretary, Secretary of Agriculture, and of course, the MAN in 1600 PA.)
This is indeed similar to the proposal for charter forests now launched by Independence Institute, and they will no doubt be listened to much better than I was two decades ago. Both of us point out that something HAS to be done. The continued federal ownership of land that SHOULD have remained in ownership of tribes or gone into private ownership, and the government mismanagement of that for 120 years, has damaged the forests severely: more so than the so-called ravages done before the forest reserves were created except in a VERY few locations. But worse, the current conditions of the forests of America, especially those of the West, means that much of the destruction we’ve seen is only a pale shadow of what will happen with the economy and federal government collapse, and there will be only enough “federal management” to keep anyone from doing anything about the longterm decay in ecosystems, and the massive fires sure to sweep so much of the forests.
Local, private management is the only alternative which is both able to accomplish the objective of managing the forests to support humans (and wildlife and everything else), that is both sustainable and affordable. The same system could be applied to the National Park lands, and to the vast lands controlled by another of the great failed bureaucracies, Interior’s Bureau of Land Management.
By the way, this is NOT a totally outlandish or new idea by any means. Forests both in the United Kingdom and the Fifty States nave been privately owned and operated for centuries, and can be visited today. They are not utopias, but they are sustainable and thriving. In the US, look at much of the Eastern Seaboard, especially Maine and Pennsylvania, but in the West, look at the land owned by Union Pacific, BNSF, and other railroads, as well as millions of acres of “inholdings” inside national forests. It DOES work.
Mama’s Note: Might be a “step in the right direction, as so many like to say. The real answer, of course, rests on reverting all this land to private property, controlled by individuals with the rational incentives, rewards and punishment of the free market. The “non-profit” works fine as long as it is administered by saints and watched closely by everyone involved – which doesn’t happen much in the real world, and certainly not on the logistic and economic scale of that much land and it’s resources.