Maybe a better opening would be “I want I want”! We really hear a lot of those words these days when the subject of “public lands” comes up. I want to raft the Dolores River; I want to save a sucker fish; I want to stop all oil & gas drilling; I want to save the trees; I want all livestock off my public forest; I want to save a wolf, why? Don’t know; I want to stop all hunting; I want peace and quiet on my hike in my public forest; I want the roads closed. The list goes on and on like the Energizer bunny. This became real recently when finally one user group had to sue the Forest Service to open access that it closed due to environmental activists threatening to sue if it wasn’t closed. This puts the Forest Service in a Catch-22 position, darned it they do and darned it they don’t, and the taxpayer pays!
A couple of questions come to my mind. First, what are the unappropriated lands of the state they call “public lands” to be used for? Second, just who is the public?
To start, first think for one minute, our entire economy and life comes from the natural resources that are in or on the ground. When God created man, He conducted the first open pit mine and took some dirt with various minerals and added water, and voila! man. They say you are about 60 percent water (by volume) and the rest minerals. Actually they say the brain is about 70 percent water, which explains a lot for some people. Contrary to popular belief, our food, clothing, shelter, protection and place to be at, all come from the ground not Walmart or the internet. So what are the unappropriated lands of the state to be used for? To provide water, food, clothing, shelter, protection.
Now, who is the “public”? That seems simple, since Webster would define it as relating to all people in a region or state. When I read or hear environmental activist groups saying “our public lands,” they are claiming the “public” lands to be theirs, not mine or yours. We don’t count or matter. As a friend used to say “what am I, chopped liver?” If the lands are truly “public,” then they are for all the people, not any one person or group, right? So how can the lands be used and managed for God-created purposes and also meet the numerous and devisive wants of the selfish and fickle public that think the land belongs to them?
This past year, we have seen the “public” lands dried up, burned up, resources wasted and public being barred from historic use. Reality is starting to settle in to a few people that the lands must once again be managed, used, protected and cared for if their purpose and benefits are to be realized. That sounds good, right? Well, what that means is trees must be thinned and used, roads and trails reopened, livestock and wildlife range and waters restored, all forms of recreation use renewed and fire protection restarted. That will not sit well with the environmental activist groups that have shut down management and use over the past 40 years, using politics and courts to get their way. How were they able to do that?
Well, long story short, in 1976 passage of the Federal Lands Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) declared the federal government would retain and take the unappropriated lands of the states for itself and declare them “public” lands. The federal agencies were to “coordinate” with local governments on the management and use. Then they formed policies where local agency offices were to solicit and receive “public” input on all proposed management actions. Aha, now the environmental “public” thought they got to have a say and vote in what the federal agency does, that is democracy by mob rule. By then there had been a number of environmental laws passed to please the activists. In all that process, the “public” could then sue a federal agency when it did not like what the agency did and thus stop management. Subsequent laws provided that the feds would pay the legal costs of the activist litigator. What a sweet deal, get paid for suing to get your way. The local governments don’t get that sweet deal if they sued for the exact same thing. This has created government-funded multimillion- dollar annual business enterprises in shutting down and preventing management and use of the God-created lands and resources for all men’s benefit.
I saw a Facebook page from the Forest Service this week as they are seeking “public” input to start up some much needed management actions. The post said “Many times, the Forest Service only hears from those who don’t support the project, making them the squeaky wheel that gets the oil.” That pointed out what we all knew, “the anti-management” environmental groups have been getting their way on our public lands, and the Constitutional and scientific process of managing the public Lands of the states has been broken and non-functional for 42 years. Under the U.S. and Colorado Constitutions, the “public” have no rights to dictate to either government how the unappropriated “public” lands of the state are managed and used. That is the sole discretion of the legitimate governing bodies. Locally that would be our governing representatives, the Board of County Commissioners working with the employed management agency, the Forest Service and BLM. To restore management and use for ALL, we must get back to the basic rules under the Constitutions. Management cannot be accomplished when politics and courts are directing, everybody loses. The lands are NOT yours or mine, they are lands and resources of the state to be used for the benefit of all the people of the state.
Dexter Gill is a retired forest manager who worked for private industry, three Western state forestry agencies, and the Navajo Nation forestry department. He writes from Lewis, Colo.