New to national forests – carbon sequestration

The world’s largest carbon direct air capture facility has started construction in Iceland

From the news release:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service today announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that would allow the agency to consider proposals for potential carbon capture and sequestration projects on national forests and grasslands. This proposal would harmonize the framework between the federal government’s two largest land managers by aligning with regulatory structures already established for the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management.

If this amendment is finalized, applications for carbon sequestration on national forests or grasslands would be considered for permanent use. The proposed regulation changes the initial screening criteria to allow the Forest Service to consider proposals for carbon capture and sequestration projects and does not allow for any other permanent uses on national forests and grasslands.

From the Federal Register:

The United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service (Forest Service or Agency), is proposing to amend its special use regulations, which prohibit authorizing exclusive and perpetual use and occupancy of National Forest System lands, to provide an exemption for carbon capture and storage.

Carbon dioxide injected in pore spaces may remain for over 1,000 years after injection and would be tantamount to an exclusive and perpetual use and occupancy if authorized on NFS lands.

The proposed rule would not authorize carbon capture and storage on NFS lands. Rather, the proposed rule would exempt proposals for carbon capture and storage from the initial screening criterion prohibiting authorization of exclusive use and occupancy of NFS lands, thereby allowing the Forest Service to review proposals and applications for carbon capture and storage and to authorize proposed carbon capture and storage on NFS lands if, where, and as deemed appropriate by the Agency.

Proposals for underground storage of carbon dioxide would have to meet all other screening criteria, including but not limited to consistency with the applicable land management plan, potential risks to public health or safety, conflicts or interference with authorized uses of NFS lands or use of adjacent non-NFS lands.

Of course it would have to be consistent with forest plans, but would a forest plan that authorizes “exclusive and perpetual use and occupancy” of national forest lands be consistent with the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act?  (Is the BLM different in this regard?)  I assume that’s why the existing special use regulations are written to prohibit permanent uses.  Maybe this should be viewed as a question of divesting ownership rather than a permitted special use.


Bill to Use Federal Land for Affordable Housing: HOUSES Act of 2022

This isn’t about employees, but is of interest.

U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis has co-sponsored legislation that would allow federal land to be used for public housing.

The Helping Open Underutilized Space to Ensure Shelter Act (HOUSES) would open up parcels of federally owned land for states or local governments to buy for the purpose of increasing the availability of housing.

“The purpose of the bill is to make state and local governments able to buy local land for home development,” Lummis told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday afternoon.

The legislation would amend the Federal Land Policy and Management Act and also proposes that state or local entities would be allowed to buy federal public land at a discounted rate “well below market value,” ratioed by a Payment in Lieu of Taxes price.

The HOUSES Act was first introduced in 2022 and was recently reintroduced by Lummis, bill sponsor Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, and Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska. Lack of affordable housing has become not only an issue in Wyoming in recent years, but also throughout the entire West.

“Housing affordability is a nationwide problem. Rent is high and mortgages are even higher thanks to Bidenomics,” Barrasso said in a statement. “The HOUSES Act will provide new options to state and local governments by allowing them to buy certain lands from the federal government for residential purposes. As more people move to Wyoming, growing communities need options to expand housing.”

What It Does?
Lummis said the legislation could have a particular benefit for a number of Wyoming communities like Jackson, Sheridan and Cody that border federal land, which makes up nearly 50% of Wyoming’s total acreage.

“Affordable housing is becoming less and less capable in Wyoming,” she said.

The Joint Economic Committee of Congress estimates the bill would lead to the construction of 2.7 million more homes in the U.S. and alleviate Wyoming’s entire housing shortage.

Under the bill, development would be limited to federal lands directly adjacent to where existing sewer infrastructure could be developed and would also exclude particularly sensitive tracts of land such as wilderness areas and national monuments. This would leave out most federal land aside from BLM and Bureau of Reclamation property.

I don’t think that’s true.. it sounds like FS would be included.

It would ensure that lands are primarily used for housing with a mandate that at least 85% be dedicated for residential purposes and the community’s related needs. It also includes density requirements, ensuring a minimum of four homes per acre and prohibits the development of luxury second homes on these parcels.

“It allows the carve-out of small parcels and is especially for the purpose of adding affordable housing,” Lummis said.

A local entity would be allowed to use the land for low-income housing, condominiums, single-family homes or even mixed-use developments.

The local government would submit requests for conveyance to the Secretary of the Interior, who would then need to approve the sale along with a state’s governor.

Not Just Houses …
According to the bill text, construction of community amenities like assembly halls, firefighting facilities, grocery stores, health clinics, hospitals, libraries, churches, police stations, recreational facilities and schools would also be allowed.

It would also require the construction of water, sewer, electricity, communications infrastructure and some connection to public transit.

Creating industrial areas would also be allowed if they include “manufacturing, assembling, processing, extracting or otherwise treating raw materials.”

The Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act already allows for the exchange of specific, low-value, isolated parcels of public land where it is necessary, seen most prominently on the far edge of Las Vegas.

“Instead of doing these on a case-by-case basis, this will establish an act of Congress to allow it,” Lummis said.

Some conservatives have criticized proposals like these as the government meddling in the private market. Lummis doesn’t buy that argument because the land being discussed isn’t available to the private market anyway.

“The private market is already cut out now because it’s federal land,” she said.

Lummis added that she finds it nearly impossible these days for the private sector to make money off building affordable housing.

The HOUSES Act also has been derided by a handful of environmental groups like Backcountry Hunters and Anglers as anti-public lands.

“The availability and affordability of housing is a real concern that impacts everyday Americans; however, the HOUSES Act does not present a meaningful attempt to solve this issue,” the group said in a Monday press release. “Rather, it would facilitate the removal of multiple-use lands from the public estate.”

I have some questions..probably someone has been following this..

  1. Why Nevada and nowhere else?
  2. To environmental groups, is this more OK if done piece by piece, or not acceptable at all?
  3.  Does the land have to be transferred, or could it be traded or leased?

Improving public access to public lands

We have discussed “corner crossings” and other barriers to public land access resulting from land ownership patterns.  Overlaying this is another barrier – availability of information about the extent of public access that does exist.  It turns out there is a lot more existing public access than meets the eye, and some technology and legislation is making more information about it available to public land users.

… the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership teamed up with onX to quantify the scope of the landlocked public lands problem and offer solutions that would open access to these acres. Since 2018, the team has found a staggering 16.43 million acres of inaccessible public land across 22 states. …  With $27 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund dedicated to increasing public land access each year, there is an incredible opportunity to address the landlocked public lands problem through strategic land acquisitions and access easements.

We soon learned that the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service held roughly 90,000 such access easements—where permanent access to public land has already been secured—but 50,000 were only recorded on paper, stored away in the dusty filing cabinets of local agency offices.  Neither the agencies, nor the public, have ever had a complete digital picture of where there is legal access to our public land. Seeing a clear need for a solution, TRCP experts began talking with lawmakers, which led to introduction of federal legislation called the Modernizing Access to Our Public Land Act.

The MAPLand Act requires federal land management agencies to digitize their paper easements, information about roads and trails and vehicle type on federal land, and the boundaries of areas with federal rules concerning weapon type and shooting. The ultimate goal is to make all of this information readily available to the public.  In April 2022, the MAPLand Act was signed into law.  This means that complete and consistent mapping data about road, trail, and shooting access will be digitally available to hunters and anglers wanting to use their public lands.

Of course funding this in a deficit-reducing environment may not happen as fast as we’d like.

Should ANILCA Access Provisions Apply Outside Alaska? New Case by Wilderness Workshop and Rocky Mountain Wild

The White River National Forest has approved year-round access and paving of Forest Service Road 780, a summer-only route above Edwards, to provide access to the proposed 19-home Berlaimont Estates project. (Jason Blevins, The Colorado Sun)
This is usually Jon territory, but since it’s in Colorado…
Interesting story by Jason Blevins at the Colorado Sun. Basically the plaintiffs are charging that ANILCA shouldn’t apply outside Alaska. Calling its use by Supervisor Fitzwilliams an “artful dodge” (plaintiffian hyperbole) is kind of silly in my view. TSW veterans of the great Village at Wolf Creek controversy (or as I called it “reasonable access for unreasonable people”) and other access issues across the country will know that Scott didn’t just dream it up.. after all, as the article says, the FS has been using the legal precedent since the 9th Circuit called it in 1981, and is certainly what FS folks are told by their lawyers.

has been deployed many times in the West and in Colorado to force the Forest Service to provide roads across public land to access islands of private property.

To me it says reasonable access and reasonable is in the eye of the beholder. Should this be changed to “not required to provide any kind of access?” Seems to me that that question should go back to Congress. Many of us could help with stories on the difficulties of interpreting “reasonable,” and ideas for useful clarifications. That’s one reason I prefer not to let courts handle these things..they can say what’s wrong, but can’t tell us what’s right, or what could work better.

Extra points to Jason for explaining this complex stuff accurately (or at least as far as I can tell) and attaching the complaint and a link to the precedent case Montana Wilderness Association v. US Forest Service. And Bob Zybach and others will appreciate that he spelled out how to pronounce FLPMA and ANILCA. If you appreciate his work, please consider sending him a note. Remember that old management idea “catch people doing something right”?

You don’t hear much about FLPMA and the Forest Service, since FLPMA is generally regarded as a BLM statute, based on the definition of public lands in it. See here.

This Complaint involves Forest Service decisions regarding National Forest System lands in Western Colorado. Defendants applied the mandatory access provisions of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980, 16 U.S.C. §§ 3101 et seq. (“ANILCA”) instead of the discretionary access provisions in the Federal Land and Policy Management Act of 1976 (“FLPMA”) that apply to federal public lands outside of Alaska, including National Forests. 43 U.S.C. § 1740 of 1976 (“Secretary of Agriculture, with respect to lands within the National Forest System, shall promulgate rules and regulations to carry out the purposes of [FLPMA]” when considering access requests.). The National Forest Management Act of 1976, 16 U.S.C. § 1600 et seq., (“NFMA”) also applies to the National Forests, but because access issues were inadvertently omitted from NFMA, the access provisions involving National Forests were included in FLPMA. Applying ANILCA’s Alaska-specific provisions to an access request
involving the National Forest in the Lower 48 States is contrary to the plain language of ANILCA and FLPMA.

It sounds like the FS was supposed to promulgate rules in NFMA.. did they? Lands people out there?

Check out the judges’ decision in that case, which goes back to mind-curdling details of the legislative history. And it returns to Colorado.

The appellees, however, have uncovered subsequent legislative history that, given the closeness of the issue, is decisive. Three weeks after Congress passed the Alaska Lands Act, a House-Senate Conference Committee considering the Colorado Wilderness Act interpreted § 1323 of the Alaska Lands Act as applying nation-wide:

Section 7 of the Senate amendment contains a provision pertaining to access to non-Federally owned lands within national forest wilderness areas in Colorado. The House bill has no such provision.
The conferees agreed to delete the section because similar language has already passed Congress in Section 1323 of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

Should be an interesting case..

The specific White River case seems to be about a summer only unpaved road being changed to an all-season paved road. We discussed it here, but it seemed like that story was used to take a swipe at Trump-era NEPA regs. And yet, here we still are…

Conservation groups should be able to lease land to protect it

(I figured this from High Country News originally came from the Property and Environment Research Center, “the home of free market environmentalism,” and I wanted to make that clear.)

In much of the rural West, environmental groups have a reputation for suing to stop natural resource development. But some, like the Wyoming group, are attempting a new strategy: purchasing what they want to protect. The approach, sometimes called conservation leasing, could bolster “30 by 30,” the Biden administration’s ambitious conservation plan to conserve 30% of the nation’s lands and waters by 2030, without ending the leasing revenue that state governments have long derived from resource extraction.

The only problem: It’s often illegal.

These century-old “use it or lose it” requirements were designed to deter speculation and encourage white settlement. But today, they can bias resource management in favor of extraction.

We may have discussed this before, but not in the context of “American the Beautiful.”  (Note: they seem to assume that not all federal lands would automatically qualify, and that at least those committed to energy or grazing would not.)  Why not change the rules to allow non-consumptive/preservation interests to pay to prevent development (for a contractual time period that would count towards 30 x 30) on publicly owned lands?  I suppose a couple of answers are that 1) they shouldn’t have to pay, and 2) that money could be better used for something else.  But would just removing the legal barriers to allow that option to be considered in lieu of energy or grazing for areas where environmental protection is more valuable be that bad of a thing?

National Forest State Park

Sweetwater Lake, located in remote northeastern Garfield County in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area, is set to become Colorado’s first state park on federal land after it was acquired by the U.S. Forest Service in August 2021.

“Colorado’s first state park on federal land.”  This came across as an oxymoron, but why not?

This land acquisition followed a common pattern, where a non-profit conservancy (The Conservation Fund) acquired private property until the federal government had the funds (Land and Water Conservation Fund) to purchase it and add it to a national forest (White River).  (From Colorado Parks & Wildlife, linked below.)

This Land and Water Conservation Fund purchase followed the acquisition of the property in 2020 by The Conservation Fund, which was made possible by a loan from Great Outdoors Colorado and local fundraising efforts such as the “Save the Lake” Campaign organized by Eagle Valley Land Trust.

A little less common (to me any way), the Conservation Fund is also continuing to fund management, according the Eagle Valley Land Trust:

“We’re also excited to announce our Sweetwater Lake Stewardship and Equity Fund, which will assist the Eagle Valley Land Trust and our agency partners in activating the property for public use and enhancing opportunities for underserved communities to enjoy the space for years to come.”

There is an existing Forest Service campground on adjacent land.  The Forest Service had this to say in the formal announcement from Governor Polis:

“Sweetwater Lake has tremendous ecological and cultural values and outstanding opportunities for recreation.  This partnership allows the White River National Forest to incorporate the local expertise of the Eagle Valley Land Trust and the recreation management and wildlife expertise of Colorado Parks and Wildlife to best serve visitors to the area,” said Rocky Mountain Regional Forester Frank Beum.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife added:

“Colorado Parks and Wildlife is excited to modernize facilities and provide updated and sustainable recreational services through this partnership. Our main priority is to conserve the unique character of the area while improving access to this incredible property,” said Colorado Parks and Wildlife Director Dan Prenzlow.

None of this said much about the State’s authority and responsibility, but I don’t know why they couldn’t lease the site and manage it as a permittee.  I don’t know if any other states have done anything like this, but as questions continue to come up about how to manage growing outdoor recreation this might be an option in some other places.

Coverage of the Great American Outdoors Act- Giving Senator Gardner His Due (or Not)

Yesterday I posted this asking the question, why 15% of the total backlog $ to the Forest Service? But let’s not lose track that everyone worked together to achieve this, and it made its way through an otherwise divided Congress by amassing support through the work of a coalition and politicians of various stripes doing their legislative thing. So you would think that this would be a time to celebrate! And it is.. and I think the cosponsors in the Senate, Gardner and Manchin, especially deserve to be congratulated.

My favorite story was this one from Outsider Magazine by Frederick Reimers.. I think he got both the celebration for all of us, and the responsibility of Senator Gardner right.

Earlier today the Senate passed the Great American Outdoors Act, allocating billions to support outdoor recreation in two separate ways. The first is by providing $9.5 billion over the next five years to help the National Park Service and other federal land-management agencies address their maintenance backlogs. Federal public lands are suffering from $20 billion in deferred maintenance costs, with $12 billion of that accumulated by the National Park Service. The second is to mandate that the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), widely considered the nation’s single best funding tool for outdoor recreation, be permanently financed to its maximum allotment of $900 million annually. In March the president called for such a bill to land on his desk.

It’s a remarkable breakthrough at a time when the White House has been hostile to federal conservation and land-management agencies and to the LWCF; Trump’s proposed 2021 budget slashed the Park Service budget by $587 million and allocated just $15 million to the LWCF, a mere 1.6 percent of its allotment. The bill passed by a vote of 73 to 25. Proponents, including the bill’s sponsor, Republican Cory Gardner of Colorado, tout the Great American Outdoors Act as a way to get people back to work after millions have been laid off in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Years of bipartisan work have led to this moment and this historic opportunity for conservation,” says Gardner. “Today the Senate passed not only the single greatest conservation achievement in generations but also a lifeline to mountain towns and recreation communities hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

(Sharon’s note: Colorado is full of “mountain towns and recreation communities.”)

A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced their version of the legislation in the House of Representatives on June 4, and passage of that version is expected in the coming weeks, clearing the way for the president to sign the bill into law.

“We are going to have to rebuild the economy, and this can be a really big part of that,” says Democratic senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, noting that nationally, outdoor recreation contributes $778 billion in consumer spending and supports 5.2 million jobs, yet “our trails and campgrounds aren’t in the shape that they should be, which directly impacts economic activity on public lands and in gateway communities.”

In May, more than 850 signatories representing conservation organizations, local governments, and state and regional tourism boards urged congressional leaders to support the bill. “The Great American Outdoors Act will ensure a future for nature to thrive, kids to play, and hunters and anglers to enjoy,” they wrote.

Senator Heinrich of New Mexico, in addition to Gardner and Manchin, appears to be a special hero to Forest Service fans:

Heinrich lauds Republican senators Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Rob Portman of Ohio, in addition to Gardner and Daines, with being tireless champions of the Great American Outdoors Act, which he says was named “to appeal to the White House.”

Heinrich, who most observers credit with driving the effort to expand maintenance funding beyond the Park Service, explains that while the Bureau of Indian Education doesn’t have a recreation mission, it was included in the bill because, by “historical accident,” the agency was placed in the Department of the Interior, and therefore, he says, “time and again their funding levels get left out. Sometimes you have to deal with the history that puts us where we are.”

Disappointingly, IMHO, the Paonia, Colorado-based High Country News reprinted a piece from the HuffPost that focused on the “vulnerable” Republicans and implied that they only supported the bill because they are “vulnerable.” It was part of an effort called Climate Desk, although the link between the GAOA and climate is less than direct IMHO. I recognize that partisan politics is one lens to view the news. It shouldn’t be the only lens, though, even if it’s easier to acquire that reporting from NGO-funded news sources.

“It is a desperate attempt to convince their constituents that they aren’t working on behalf of corporations and that they care about what the American people care about,” said Jayson O’Neill, director of public lands watchdog group Western Values Project.

We discussed the Western Values Project in this post, which also has a link to Dave Skinner’s writing in the Flathead Beacon, and an E&E News story.

I hope every state has an outlet like Colorado Politics. It helps us understand who is funding whom to what end, always of interest.

Based on CoPo stories, the Sierra Club has taken a particular dislike to Senator Gardner, from this CoPo piece from November.

“The organization notes that Gardner has introduced a bill to reauthorize of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, but his heart isn’t really in it. “[H]is apparent goal is not to pass full funding for LWCF, but rather to maximize the number of positive press hits he gets talking about full funding of LWCF,” according to the Sierra Club. “He has put forth an amendment he knows will not get a vote and in reality does little to move the ball forward.”

Given the outcome with the Great American Outdoors Act, that statement seems remarkably non-prescient. Or this one from CoPo in December:

“Sen. Gardner sits in the majority in the Senate, sees himself as a leader in his party, so there is no good reason for him not to get full funding completed by the end of this year,” said Emily Gedeon, conservation program director for the Colorado Sierra Club. “He puts himself out as an ardent conservationist, but talk is not enough, and he needs to be calling on Senate leadership to get this done.”

After rolling out five critical billboards around the state — including along the main road to the incumbent Republican’s hometown, Yuma — the environmental advocacy organization announced Tuesday that it has another $150,000 in TV ads on network stations in Colorado Springs, Denver and on the Eastern Plains to run through Dec. 20.

I understand that the Sierra Club must think that a D majority in the Senate would be a good thing for the environment, but can we all just take a deep breath and celebrate something good for a few days? And consider, for a minute, that it’s conceivable that Gardner is representing our state’s and people’s interests, and the idea that it’s a political ploy may be worth a few sentences, but is certainly not the whole story.

Great American Outdoor Act Passes Senate.. Forest Service Gets 15%

We’ve discussed this bill before, and I think it’s great news for a variety of reasons. Congress worked together through all the Congressy give-and-take to get something important to the country passed.  The effort was co-led by Senators Manchin of West Virginia and Senator Gardner of Colorado. Any bill is complicated, and I’m not sure I got all the relevant pieces, but I did pick out this part of potential interest.  I wonder how they arrived at the percentages for each agency…was it based on their deferred maintenance calculations or ????

Grand Canyon development proposal resurfaces on the Kaibab

We’ve discussed the use of land exchanges that would facilitate the growth of urban areas by giving them more private land in logical growth areas using the example of Las Vegas.  At a different scale, the town of Tusayan appears to be an inholding in the Kaibab National Forest, which limits its growth opportunities.  They have been looking at a proposal to develop a nearby separate inholding (which the town owns a part of).   It would require a special use permit to for roads and utilities to cross national forest lands.  It has been controversial (attracting unwanted attention according to the town; the 2nd Twitter link works), and the town has just approved a revised proposal, which will be submitted to the Forest Service.  The Kaibab National Forest rejected the last proposal in 2016 as inconsistent with the requirements for a special use permit.  Here is a part of the rationale that relates to the forest plan:

CFR 251.54(e)(l)(ii) requires that the proposed use must be consistent, or can be made consistent, with the Kaibab Forest Plan. The Forest Plan envisions management at a landscape­ scale by taking an “all-lands approach,” and specifies strategies to achieve the desired conditions and objectives in the Plan, including working closely with partners and across administrative boundaries to meet common objectives. The development that would be enabled by authorization of the proposed use of NFS lands could substantially and adversely affect Tribal lands and the Grand Canyon National Park.

36 CFR 251.54(e)(l)(v) provides that the proposed use must not unreasonably interfere with the use of adjacent non-National Forest System lands. The FS received written comments from the National Park Service (NPS) through the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish Wildlife and Parks which pointed out that potential impacts to the Outstanding Universal Value of the Grand Canyon National Park (GCNP), either from the roads that would be authorized by easement or the reasonably foreseeable development on the two private properties that would be enabled by the roads and other facilities, are of concern. The GCNP also raised concerns in a meeting regarding impacts on infrastructure that they share with the Town of Tusayan. The NPS was concerned that any activity that would result in significant increases in visitation or occupation near the Park would affect the Park’s capacity to absorb the additional use.

The first rationale is an interesting “all-lands” interpretation of its forest plan to encompass the objectives of the National Park Service and tribal lands.  The second rationale stands on its own, but it also explains what those interests are.  It’s not obvious that the recent modifications in the proposal are going to address these concerns, so I expect we’ll be seeing more about this.  (Here is the CBD take on the original proposal.)

Why Don’t Environmentalists Just Buy the Land They Want To Protect? Because It’s Against the Rules

WEG worked to retire a permit for 50 cows on the 8,454-acre Alamocita allotment.

This is a thoughtful piece by Shawn Reagan of PERC in Bozeman, Montana about some of the same NGO’s we see litigating on federal lands trying approaches of buying and retiring leases to stop activities they don’t like, say grazing or oil and gas. As he says, in many places environmental groups feel that they can’t just buy land (as the example yesterday) because the land of interest is owned by the feds or state.  He has examples from grazing, oil and gas and timber, so it’s too long for me to excerpt meaningfully. I’d recommend reading the whole thing. He also has a more in-depth journal article with a co-author, Bryan Leonard of Arizona State University in the Natural Resources Journal.

Disputes between environmental activists and developers often have a predictable result: litigation. Environmental activists have perfected a zero-sum game of suing, suing, and then suing some more to halt development projects or other land-use activities they don’t like. An alphabet soup of environmental laws—from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) and the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA)—gives groups ample opportunities to stall projects with legal challenges or to thwart them entirely.

But increasingly, environmentalists are testing the strategy of bidding for the rights to natural resources instead. In recent years, activists have attempted to acquire oil and gas rights in Utah, buy out ranchers’ public grazing permits in New Mexico, purchase hunting tags in Wyoming to stop grizzly bears from being killed, and bid against logging companies in Montana to keep trees standing.

“It’s a market-based approach,” says Judi Brawer of WildEarth Guardians, an environmental group that has negotiated several grazing permit buyouts from ranchers in the Gila National Forest in New Mexico. “And it’s way more effective at the end of the day.”

Environmentalists paying to protect landscapes isn’t itself new. Nonprofit organizations such as the Nature Conservancy do it all the time, raising millions of dollars in donations to buy land or easements to protect important landscapes from development. But the extent of these voluntary market-based exchanges is often limited to private lands. On federal and state property—which makes up most of the land in the American West—such deals are much more complicated, if not outright prohibited.

I’ll share some of my own perspectives on the topic:

1)  The oil and gas industry hires working-class (as well as other) people and pays them good wages, which leads to other purchases and taxes and so on, plus federal money goes to states which they use for education, etc.  So for the people, the county and the state, it’s not just the cost of the lease itself.  Example from this article: “The check, for $486,000,000, represents the portion the state receives from federal oil and gas lease sales. In total, the New Mexico has received revenues exceeding $1 billion in 2018 from BLM’s mandated quarterly lease sales.”  On the other hand, environmental groups might not pick the leases most likely to be developed, because of the cost.

2) This is a bit philosophical, but as Shawn points out, the original laws regarding federal land were to promote use of the land.  Are we that rich a country that we don’t need to use our own natural resources anymore? Would we feel the same way about buying out a ski area lease, or a wind or solar farm lease? It is a good thing to depend on international trade and the good will of other countries to provide energy and shelter? If we use things and don’t produce them ourselves, are we in effect exporting environmental damage to other countries, and is that the right thing to do? Do we trust those other countries or are there national security implications of not producing them here? Perhaps importing wood from Canada yes, perhaps oil from OPEC, no.

3) We could change from however flawed (as we at The Smokey Wire are very aware) planning decisions made by federal employees, with the input of the public, to planning decisions made by boards of some not-for-profit.  Some not-for-profits are sometimes funded by rich people from elsewhere (though again, not always).  Nevertheless, it’s clearly less transparent and less open to public opinion than the flawed federal decision-making process. Of course, they may be the same groups who tend to  “get their way” via litigation, as in Shawn’s piece.

4) I see grazing/ranching as a different situation due to the private and public land linkages (if groups bought the home ranch property and the federal permit, that would work better) , as he points out. There is also a difference in the people employed both in numbers and pay, and the fact that the US many other food sources. Still, ranchers provide financial and social capital bonuses to many struggling rural communities in a way that leaving it alone does not.

5) In the related realm of water rights NFWF (Nif-Wif) did an extensive review here.

Much for discussion here. Other thoughts?