Give the parks to the people

Must we continue to storm the barrycades? Photo: Arches National Park

COLORADO SPRINGS, October 14, 2013—While veterans stormed the Barrycades Sunday in Washington, D.C., a number of National Parks reopened quietly Saturday with funds from the States. Included in the reopening were Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah, Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore and the Statue of Liberty. It is a good start but it’s only temporary.

The reopening puts federal workers back on the job at least temporarily. States will seek reimbursement from the federal government when a budget agreement is reached and the shutdown ends, but there is no guarantee they will receive reimbursement. Utah used $1.67 million from its Division of State Parks to reopen the parks. Its congressional delegation will seek to secure reimbursement of the state’s financing.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell reached an agreement first with Utah Governor Gary R. Herbert, who initiated the dialog. Jewell was appointed to her position in January after leading the consumer co-op Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI).  Park Service Director Jon Jarvis is a career bureaucrat. Despite the non-political background of these two top leaders, and the fact that the National Parks system ought to be non-political, the Park Service has been at the forefront of the administration’s efforts to inflict pain on the people over the partial government shutdown.

Forget that the administration has refused to negotiate with the House over the budget. Forget that the same administration that has closed the parks and monuments due to the lack of funding has rented barricades and posted police where there was neither before.

The Grand Canyon was closed during the 1995 government shutdown and Arizona kept it open then, too. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Why not make it permanent? Start devolving federal ownership back to the states. Every state already has its own state park system. What the federal government can’t seem to manage the states can. If Arizona is paying to keep the Grand Canyon open, shouldn’t Arizona get the entrance fees?

The federal government owns far too much western land: 48% of Arizona, 57% of Utah and 36% of Colorado, for example. According to the Congressional Research Service in 2010 the Bureau of Land Management owned over 8 million acres in Colorado. Acres like the Comanche National Grasslands in southeastern Colorado.

Sounds idyllic, right? A look on a small scale map shows vast green spaces, protected as open space. Upon closer inspection, however, ownership is a patchwork of sections and quarter-sections, each one fenced off individually. They are leased to ranchers for grazing.

Why shouldn’t the state of Colorado own that land? Why shouldn’t Colorado be collecting the grazing fees? And if the state wanted to sell the acreage to farmers and collect taxes instead, why shouldn’t the state realize that revenue? The ranchers would take much better care of the land than the absentee landlords in Washington, D.C. The land would be worth more and everyone would benefit.

Sadly, this is not a new issue. In March 2012, the governor of Utah signed a bill demanding federal land be returned to state control. Gov. Gary R. Herbert of Idaho signed a similar law as did a total of five western governors.

The idea that the federal government should divest itself of some of its holdings is neither new nor radical. Collectivist liberals, however, will oppose the idea, claiming the land belongs to all the people. What they forget is the “Tragedy of the Commons,” the principle that what belongs to everyone belongs to no one. When the land is sold or leased, everyone will benefit.

The lawyerly leftists will argue, in their worst-case lawyerly way, that we can’t possibly sell all our national parks. Indeed we should not. There are some places that may rightly belong to the whole of the American people and should be managed by the federal government on our behalf.

Let us be resolved on two principles: give back to the States those places and properties not absolutely essential to the good of the whole people, and keep the remaining pieces in trust for the people, not as weapons to be used against them.

Maybe with less to manage, the federal government will be able to manage them.

READ MORE from Al Maurer at Red Pill, Blue Pill

At The Voice of Liberty, we seek to advance the principles of liberty, because tyranny never sleeps.

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Al Maurer

Al Maurer is a political scientist and founder of The Voice of Liberty. He writes on topics of limited government and individual rights.

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