PERC Policy Series, “How to Care For Our Public Lands”

The Property and Environment Research Center, “The home of free market environmentalism,” has three new policy briefs, according to an email from them today:

How to Care For Our Public Lands: New PERC Policy Briefs
Our public lands need our help, and now is the time to make a difference. Between maintenance needs, local management challenges, and funding insecurities, getting the incentives right for public lands conservation is crucial. Recent efforts, such as the Great American Outdoors Act, have been a start, but there’s much more to do. The good news is we now have the opportunity to make changes that will help solve these problems.

In our new series of policy briefs authored by PERC research fellow Tate Watkins, we look ahead to the future of our public lands. The series explores the challenges that remain and offers creative solutions to ensure sustainable, secure funding so that our public lands will be taken care of for generations to come.

A Better Way to Fund Conservation and Recreation
Federal oil and gas revenues have generated funding for the great outdoors for decades, but the model warrants reconsideration.

Enhancing the Public Lands Recreation Fee System
Visitors are already helping public lands flourish by contributing revenues that support recreation. Reforms could improve management and benefit visitors even more.

Fixing National Park Maintenance for the Long Haul
Addressing overdue maintenance is vital, but the root of the problem is a lack of attention to routine maintenance.


19 thoughts on “PERC Policy Series, “How to Care For Our Public Lands””

  1. The second one is of most interest to me:
    Here are their recommendations for that one.

    *Reform the Federal Lands and Recreation Enhancement Act to allow all federal land agencies to charge entry fees.
    *Give federal land agencies long-term fee authority by permanently authorizing the updated program.
    *Grant more authority to park superintendents, forest supervisors, and other public land managers to set fees.
    *Eliminate agency directives that tie the hands of local managers when it comes to spending fee revenues.
    *Clarify that managers are permitted to use their fee receipts for operations and permanent visitor-service employees.
    *Explore ways to implement a surcharge for overseas visitors.
    *Encourage experimentation in fee structures at individual recreation sites.
    * Consider raising the price of the annual recreation pass.

  2. PERC, the Property and Environment Research Center, has a long history of fighting to undermine America’s public lands legacy and our nation’s bedrock conservation laws in favor of a supposed “free market” approach.

    PERC gets funding from the likes of the Koch Foundation and Exxon-Mobile to push a radical agenda that would essentially end America’s public lands legacy as we know it.

    • Matthew, but what do you make of the policy statements? How do they “undermine America’s public lands legacy and our nation’s bedrock conservation laws”?

    • Some other questions…
      What’s a “supposed “free market” approach” as opposed to a free market approach?
      If the US is a mixed economy, shouldn’t we be able to pick and choose which kinds of policies, depending on how effective we think they would be (as well as other factors)?

      Many environmental NGO’s get funding from rich people and corporations. Are those rich people and corporations somehow by definition “better”?

      Since historically, oil and gas and coal development has occurred on federal lands, it seems to me that it could be argued that efforts to kick them out (as well as OHV folks, mountain bikers, and so on) “would end America’s public lands legacy as we know it.”

      If everyone didn’t read stuff put out by people whose salaries are funded by rich people or corporations, there would hardly be anything left to read. That’s the problem journalism is facing.

      • Sharon, We’ve been over this many times over many years on this blog, so I will not waste much time except to say that I find it very odd that career federal government employees in the public lands realm now collecting a hefty government pension (which, by the way, I fully support…PERC? Likely not so much) would give any air time to far right wing, private property rights, anti-public lands, anti-bedrock environmental law think tanks funded by some of the most anti-public lands, anti-environmental protection corporations and entities on the planet.

        By the way, my comments regarding PERC are, in part, inspired by the fact that for years on this blog anytime a small non-profit group with a very modest budget wanted to protect a forest, or an endangered species, or a special place, by holding the government or corporations accountable Sharon and some other commenters would try to conflate the issue by wondering where the funding came from. But clearly that same level of curiosity doesn’t apply to far right wing think tanks that are hell-bent on gutting America’s public lands legacy and turning it over to the “free market.”

  3. See also:

    Like other free market solutions, user fees are a plutocratic policy.

    Those who most vociferously promote user fees do not represent the interests of ordinary Americans. That’s important to understand. Take PERC, for instance. The Property and Environment Research Center, which declined to comment for this column, has long led the call to impose higher user fees on public lands across the country. Whether testifying before Congress or publishing in national media outlets, its operatives want you to pay more in order to access the parks and forests that your tax dollars already support. But here’s the rub: Like other groups working to dismantle our country’s progressive conservation paradigm, PERC gets a nice influx of cash each year from conservative dark money funds tied to billionaires like Charles and David Koch and their allies in the fossil fuel industry and on the far right. Between 2010 and 2015 alone, the group received more than $130,000 from Donors Trust, a leading Koch-linked dark money fund based in Virginia. PERC’s executive director, meanwhile, was an associate at the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation from 2008 to 2009. That should give you a sense of whose interests PERC represents.

    • Matthew, my point is that people who get money from dark sources and rich people can have good ideas, and we can discuss their ideas.

      I’m a pragmatist, so I’ll accept whatever solutions seem to have the best chance of working.

      Plus, there are people at PERC, diverse human beings with their own interests and values. Like folks who go to work for NGO’s you agree with, they probably have values more or less in alignment with those of the group. I don’t think it’s safe to say that PERC “represents Koch’s interests” any more than the x environmental group to whom Steyer writes a check “represents Steyer’s interests.”

      • Sharon, my point is that you have a history on this blog of wondering, and making a big deal about, where small to modest non-profit groups that want to protect public lands, or the climate, or imperiled wildlife get funding.

        Also, I do think it’s save to say that the Koch Foundation and Exxon give PERC money to help push and represent their interests and agenda.

  4. “Many environmental NGO’s get funding from rich people and corporations.” That’s a familiar refrain here, and the fact is it’s false equivalency. They get a lot less than their opponents. For example: “Fossil fuel industry continues to dwarf environmental interests in election-related spending.”

    There’s a lot more Kochs than Steyers. And then there’s the reasons behind the support for the NGOs vs industry profits. (No, industry is not spending all that money to protect its employees or consumers.) But go ahead and pick on the little guy trying to save the planet.

    • Nope, it’s not a “false equivalency.”

      Let’s face it, most federal lands don’t have oil and gas.
      So what are the environmental threats on federal lands? “logging”, ranching, ohvs and perhaps mountain bikes. If it’s Wilderness, then too many recreationists. I don’t think any of those groups have the budgets of say, NRDC or the Sierra Club.

      I’m all for the little gals being little gals, but we can’t conflate them with obvious Big Gals.

      • “Let’s face it, most federal lands don’t have oil and gas.
        So what are the environmental threats on federal lands?”

        Some basic info:

        The Bureau of Land Management oversees nearly 700 million acres of taxpayer-owned subsurface oil and natural gas on U.S. public lands, in addition to nearly 250 million acres of public land.

        According to the Bureau of Land Management, about 26 million Federal acres were under lease to oil and gas developers at the end of FY 2018.

        Between 2009 and 2018 the Bureau of Land Management made over 47 million acres of public lands available for oil and gas development.

        90 percent of U.S. public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management are open to oil and gas leasing and development.

        • If BLM has 250 million acres of surface; 26 mill under lease as of fy 2018, even if you add the leasing availability decisions, 47 mill you still have 73 out of 250 mill. Most is what I said. BLM land can be open, but if there are no minerals… you still won’t rigs on site.

          As to the Forest Service,
          “The Forest Service manages access to, and development of, federal oil and natural gas resources on approximately one-third of the over 150 national forests and grasslands.”

  5. Regardless of the source of PERC’s funding, the bullet points that Sharon listed, from in PERC’s “Enhancing the Public Lands Recreation Fee System,” are worthy of discussion and consideration.

    For example, one of PERC’s recommendations is to:

    *Reform the Federal Lands and Recreation Enhancement Act to allow all federal land agencies to charge entry fees.

    From PERC’s report:

    “The Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Reclamation should be allowed to charge entry fees in addition to their current amenity fee authority, while still adhering to the requirement that fees only be charged at sites with enough visitation to cover costs of collection. Extending entrance fee authority to these agencies would provide local managers more options for collecting revenue that can be used to enhance visitor services. The agencies should be permitted to charge for entry at heavily used sites with enough visitors and hence revenues to justify collection costs. This change would also better reflect the realities of recreation visitation today by eliminating the incentive for agencies to implement illogical or incoherent fee structures that stem from prohibitions on entry fees and have spurred disputes in the past. Relatedly, in cooperation with the agencies, Congress should reexamine statutory prohibitions on charging entrance fees at specific sites, especially where such fees could be implemented in a way that exempts locals.”

    This makes sense, since Congress cannot or will not provide adequate funding for maintaining most sites. The USFS already charges entry fees at national monuments, such as the Colorado National Monument, Entrance Fee, $15 per vehicle; Newberry National Volcanic Monument offers a 3-Day pass for $10. Personally, I dislike having to pay such fees, but how else are the agencies to cover their costs? Is there a better alternative?

    FWIW, I strongly disagree with PERC’s recommendation to “Explore ways to implement a surcharge for overseas visitors.” The fees should be the same for everyone, period.

    • I’m not sure how you can reconcile that last statement with fees that “could be implemented in a way that exempts locals.” Legally, my guess is that there would be more problems with fees discriminating against non-local citizens than against foreigners.

      I’m not against user fees in principle. The public shares in ownership of public lands, but we have different effects based on whether and how we use them, and I think it’s fair to charge for mitigating that. I’m not sure recreational use of public lands is different from public consumption of publicly owned fish and wildlife, which requires a license.

      Who knows, such fees might also tend to help shift management bias away from more destructive kinds of revenue sources. However, I would hope for a lot of public participation and national oversight, rather than more authority for local managers (at least for awhile).

      • “Shift management bias away from more destructive kinds of revenue sources”..

        I’d be interested in how you think that works. Most of the folks I know say something like “Congress gives us money to run these programs so we have to spend the money and implement them, even the ones we would prefer not to.”

        • I was only speculating, but if the federal and/or local governments got a cut of the revenues they might want to avoid doing things that discourage recreation.

    • I’m for charging overseas visitors more.. after all they are not paying for the upkeep of parks in their taxes. So the “paying twice” argument doesn’t work.

      I’d be interested in checking in on what other countries do on this, though.


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