When we think about the public land that we own, as citizens of the United States of America, it is natural to conjure images of Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, the Great Smoky Mountains and other national parks.
Our national parks were described by author Wallace Stegner as "the best idea we ever had" - a concept now copied around the world in places including Tanzania's Serengeti and Ecuador's Galapagos Islands.
But our national parks, which preserve "unimpaired the natural and cultural resources" account for only about 13% of federal land. The vast majority of federal land is managed either by the Bureau of Land Management or the United States Forest Service. BLM lands and our national forests are managed for "multiple use" and are often leased to individuals and corporations for grazing, mining, timber production and fossil fuel extraction.
Distribution of federal lands
Earlier this year, the National Park Service, which manages national monuments and national seashores as well as national parks, announced a budget deficit -- 11,500,000,000 dollars in deferred maintenance.
PERC Executive Director Reed Watson.
The Property and Environmental Research Center (PERC), a nonprofit in Bozeman Montana that is "dedicated to improving environmental quality through property rights and markets" has proposed solutions to help solve the NPS' unfunded maintenance needs. PERC has opined, in April before Congress and last month in the New York Times, that no new parks ought to be added until we find a way to pay for the existing maintenance backlog. They are none too pleased that President Obama has used the 1906 Antiquities Act to designate 19 new national monuments, including 3 last Friday. Further, PERC asserts that user fees for parks should be increased.
How to pay for the maintenance and acquisition of public lands is an important and fair question. Other than increasing fees paid by park visitors, why not increase the fees paid by the individuals and corporations that profit from use of our BLM lands and national forests? After all, the value of fossil fuels extracted in 2013 alone exceeded 50,000,000,000 dollars.
As Restore Hetch Hetchy supporters know, one of Yosemite National Park's two spectacular glacier carved valleys is unavailable to the public. Hetch Hetchy Valley is managed by San Francisco as a reservoir. For this privilege, the city pays a mere 30,000 dollars in "rent" each year. Even though an adjustment in San Francisco's rent to a market-based rate might help with the National Park Service's maintenance deficit, we do not recommend an increase.
Instead, Hetch Hetchy should be returned to the American people and restored to its former glory. Our legal petition, now beginning to wind its way through the California courts, explicitly makes the case that it would be more valuable as a valley. If you agree, please consider making a contribution to support this legal effort..