By Kirk Siegler
Western towns surrounded by and dependent upon public lands are forced to get creative as federal recreation budgets continue a slow decline. They are boosting local efforts to maintain public access.
It’s the boom times in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., which is wrapping up a winter of record snowfall. Eager to take advantage of it, Donovan Sliman and his two young daughters are lumbering up a snowy trail on the outskirts of town, where the condos give way to National Forest.
“I like to get away from everybody else,” says Donovan. “I like to hear the sound of the wind and the snow through the trees.” “We’re also going to go sledding,” adds Grace, one of his daughters.
Mammoth is completely surrounded by protected federal wilderness or U.S. Forest Service land. Its destination ski resort operates on public land via a federal lease.
The Slimans try to visit the Mammoth Lakes area from their home in Orange County at least a half dozen times a year.
They’re not alone.
Every year, more than 2 million people descend on California’s eastern Sierra region to camp, hike, fish, hunt and ski. This region, often dubbed “the wild side” of the state, only has about 50,000 residents across two sprawling counties roughly the size of Massachusetts.
Across the western U.S., towns surrounded by public lands are facing an increasing bind: They’re seeing a huge surge in visitors coming to play in the forests and mountains surrounding them, which is leading to an economic boom. But, at the same time, federal funding to manage these lands has been drying up.
By RT H. NELSON
Late last month the Senate passed a non-binding budget resolution that encourages the selling or transfer of federal lands to state and local governments. With a Republican Congress, the longstanding question over federal management of public lands is resurfacing once again with renewed urgency.
The federal government owns large parts of the forests, deserts and other rural areas of the American West – in total around half of all the land in the Rocky Mountain and Pacific Coast states. Roughly 30% of federal lands are made up of wilderness and national parks, while the rest are used for timber harvesting, grazing, energy leasing and recreation.
This pervasive federal presence is a product of policies championed at the turn of the 20th century.
Throughout the nineteenth century, however, the government aggressively disposed of its land holdings to private landowners and state governments, seeking to advance economic development and the pursuit of “manifest destiny.” It was in the period from 1890 to 1920 that American Progressives successfully argued that these lands would be more expertly managed in federal hands.
After more than 100 years of experience, we now know otherwise, that these lands would be better under state or private management. It’s a lesson I learned well during almost two decades at the Department of the Interior working as a policy analyst in the Office of the Secretary.
Instead of much greater efficiency, the research conducted by myself and others has shown that federal management turned out to be wasteful — typical of many government-owned enterprises around the world over the course of the 20th century — as well as detrimental to the land itself.
By T.H. DeLuca, dean of the W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation at the University of Montana
In this age of changing climate and declining forest health, I believe there’s an enormous opportunity to find common ground through sustainable forest management and mass timber products—specifically, through cross-laminated timber.
During the latter part of 20th century, US forestry leaned toward maximum production and away from the conservation ethic that spawned the establishment of the National Forest System. From the 1950s to 1980s, the practice of conservation forestry as envisioned by inaugural Forest Service Chief, Gifford Pinchot, was overtaken administrators’ economically driven focus on achieve maximum allowable yield, with only localized emphasis on the health of the environment. Predictably, the capacity of the federal forest system to deliver ecological services (clean water, habitat, and aesthetics) quickly declined.
As the impacts of these practices became clearer, the public began to equate forestry with other extractive industries, such as mining and oil exploration. This shift in public perception fueled demand for greater conservation of public lands, and also helped drive major policy changes to federal forest management. The result was an abrupt reduction in forest harvest on federal lands from the mid-1990s to today (timber harvest in Montana is about 20 percent of what it had been in the 80s), leaving what were once heavily managed forests in a state of unmanaged regeneration. The impetus for these changes—preserving our forests—was fully necessary, yet wholly unmanaged regeneration, without the purifying and random influences of fire or wind-throw, has created widely spread over-stocked forest stands that are neither appropriate as wildlife habitat nor productive as forests.
So the question is, “How can forestry and an engineered wood product simultaneously bridge our ecological and social divides?”
A quiet revolution in wood building products began is just now reaching the US. That revolution is the generation of mass timber products—extremely strong panels and beams created from the glue lamination of boards and slabs—that can be used as structural components in large buildings. These panels help create buildings that are structurally sound and that are actually more resilient in the face of earthquakes or fires.
Because CLT is built from small dimensional lumber, one can use smaller-diameter trees in their manufacture. This creates greater value for trees from restoration or fuel-reduction harvests in western and central Montana and creates an economic incentive to conduct habitat-improving activities that might not happen otherwise.
In the last few years, this wood product has brought together foresters, environmentalists, lumber mills, green architects, urban planners, and agency personnel around a shared vision for a sustainable future. This group might be formerly have had very different or even antagonistic interests, but are now sharing a unifying goal of balancing sustainable forest management with green building, rural community well-being, and reduced suburban sprawl.
There’s still a lot more to learn about CLT, and how best to build an industry that will uphold the many values that need to be served, but perhaps the agreement around CLT exemplifies what is needed to overcome polarization and accomplish shared goals through a lasting bond.
…The BLM and the U.S. Forest Service share the job of forming a management plan for all 1.35 million acres of Bears Ears National Monument. It’s a new approach for the respective agencies in Utah, where prior monuments have been the exclusive purview of either the National Park Service, as with Natural Bridges, Timpanogos Cave, Cedar Breaks, Hovenweep, Rainbow Bridge and Dinosaur National Monuments, or the BLM with the sprawling Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
The Manti-La Sal National Forest is already nine months into the process of updating a decades-old forest management plan. That process is estimated to last three to five years. The Bears Ears management plan could take just as long, though the people responsible hope to expedite the effort.
During that time, staff from both agencies will solicit public input and craft policies governing the future of all uses on the public lands within Bears Ears’ boundaries. The proclamation instructs the agencies to give special consideration to input from a tribal commission, though the Forest Service and BLM will have the final say on any decisions.
BY ALEX SHASHKEVICH
To this day the U.S. government owns almost half of the land in the American West.
That level of control has been debated ever since the government began acquiring the areas in the 19th century, with some Westerners resenting the vastness of the federal authority, which amounts to 47 percent of land in 11 states. Some states, like Nevada, where the government owns 84.5 percent of the land, see more control than others.
But few know about the existence and history of revenue-sharing programs, with some dating to 1906, through which the federal government has been compensating states and counties for lost tax revenue on the lands it controls.
Now, thanks to historian Joseph “Jay” Taylor’s research and a team at Stanford’s Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA), the history and geography of those programs are presented in Follow the Money: A Spatial History of In-Lieu Programs for Western Federal Lands, an interactive website that maps federal payments made to counties and states in the American West over the past 100 years.
Oregon’s Democratic U.S. senators have proposed a nearly doubling of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument as a way to better protect the unique biodiversity and habitats in the face of climate change.Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden have proposed expanding the 16-year-old monument by more than 66,500 acres inside a new, more than 100,000-acre footprint that stretches northwest past Dead Indian Memorial Road, west to Emigrant Lake, east into Klamath County and south into California near Iron Gate Reservoir.
The 90,328 acres proposed for expansion within Oregon includes 56,245 acres of Bureau of Land Management lands, including Hyatt Lake and lands surrounding Howard Prairie Lake, as well as chunks of the upper watersheds of Jenny Creek tributaries whose lower reaches are now part of the monument.
The current monument covers about 66,000 acres within an 85,000-acre boundary inside Jackson County east of Ashland.
Source: Expansion gains momentum