Public Lands 101: Public Land Transfer Facts & Implications

Hey everyone, it’s Sophie, and I’m back
with the final episode of our Public Lands 101 series. So the way it’s going to work from here
on out is we won’t be regularly posting after the new year, but as things
come up in the conservation world, I might just pop back up with one of these. Also, if there are topics you’d like us
to cover, please feel free to send me any suggestions. Today’s video is going to be a little bit longer
than normal, so settle in, grab a cup of coffee because we’re breaking down a few facts
about public land transfer and how it would impact New Mexico. Spoiler alert: it wouldn’t be pretty. Fact #1: Public land transfer is not outlined
in the US Constitution or state Enabling Acts. I won’t get too far into Constitutional
law because there are other folks who can explain it way better than I can. So, in this post, we’re gonna include some
links to resources that debunk the myth that public land transfer is within the Constitution. What I will say is, obviously, people have
different interpretations of our Constitution, but when it comes to public lands, the Constitution
has only been used to reinforce the right of the federal government to manage and hold
jurisdiction over public lands. There’s also the argument that states were
promised public lands within their Enabling Acts , which couldn’t be further from the
truth. Many states, including New Mexico, very clearly
agreed to sign over control of public lands within the territory to the US government
in exchange for statehood. In some states like Utah, the Enabling Acts
also say that states will be given 5% of the profits from public land sales made by the
US government after being given statehood. Now some people incorrectly emphasize the
word “shall” here, when in this context it simply reinforces that after statehood,
the federal government is in charge of public land sales. Even if this was some sort of call for the
US to dispose of a state’s public lands, it sets no timeline for them to do so, and
it certainly doesn’t promise the land to the states. Fact #2: Public land transfer means New Mexico’s
taxpayers would foot the bill for the management of tens of millions of acres of our public land. That means everything: road and infrastructure maintenance, rangeland management, routine
litigation costs. States would have to start paying property
taxes on public land and New Mexico would lose funding from the Payment in Lieu of Taxes
(PILT) program where the federal government compensates our county governments because
they can’t collect property taxes on public land. Management costs also include this: “Remember,
only you can prevent forest fires.” Yep, public land transfer means New Mexico
taxpayers would bear the cost of wildfire prevention, suppression, and rehabilitation. Now, we all know wildfires are natural and
inevitable, but did you know that in 2011 and 2012, the Forest Service spent $240 million just
on putting out fires in our state? On top of that, thinning to prevent wildfires
can cost thousands of dollars per acre and rehabilitation costs can run into the tens
of millions. Our state has already endured severe budget
woes in recent years, and our state park system certainly felt the impact. In fact, in 2015, they attempted to take $6
million from the Game Protection Fund to cover management costs. Long story short, New Mexico doesn’t have
the budget to take on public land management. And finally, fact #3: Public land transfer
would drastically alter how our public lands are managed and outdoor recreation would likely
fall off the priority list. You’re probably thinking, “Okay Sophie,
now you’re sensationalizing the issue,” but hear me out on this one. In Utah’s 2012 study of public land transfer,
they found that it would only be profitable for the state if, oil and gas prices remain
stable and high and the state assumed an aggressive approach to its mineral lease program. Not only did this require average oil prices
of $92/barrel and average gas prices of over $5 per thousand cubic feet, which is a far
cry from reality in December 2017, it also required significant expansion of oil and
gas leasing on their public lands. In Idaho, they found that even with significant
expansion of the timber industry, the state would come up over $100 million short each
year on management costs if they took over public lands. We’ve reiterated many times throughout this
series that managing multiple uses on our public lands is a delicate balance that requires
a lot of compromise. It’s only with careful planning by federal
agencies that we’re able to enjoy everything our public lands have to offer. As these studies show, states have already
considered majorly tipping the scales in favor of certain industries in order to afford public
land management. Even then, the numbers suggest that public
land transfer would be so costly that selling off public lands to private interests would
likely be inevitable. Meanwhile, outdoor recreation and even grazing
have largely been left out of the conversation about state management despite the fact that
outdoor recreation supports 7.6 million direct jobs nationally and generates over $124 billion
each year in tax revenue. Under federal management, outdoor recreation
receives equal consideration in management decisions. The federal agencies who manage our public
lands are committed to the principles of multiple use and sustained yield—protecting your
right to hunt, fish, and enjoy our public lands for years to come. These agencies work for you, and your tax
dollars protect the future of our public lands. It will take all of us, working together to
hold these agencies to their mandate and ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to
recreate on the public lands that belong to all of us.

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