Emerging Consensus: Replace BLM, Forest Service

   copyright (c) 1997, Electric Nevada

Are federal land agencies really as out of touch as stories over the last year would suggest?
Consider some of the news items in Nevada over the past 12 months:
Item: The U.S. Forest Service [USFS] was found to be mechanically following policies which, year in and year out, generate fuel-rich, tinder-dry fire hazards across the West and lead to hundreds of millions of dollars in federal and state fire-fighting expenses.
Item: The Bureau of Land Management was found, by auditors from the U.S. Department of Interior's Inspector General's office, to have cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars through underappraisals of federal land involved in swaps with politically connected Las Vegas developers.
Item: The USFS was found, by the Nevada State Engineer, to have filed over 179 bogus water claims on Nye County water where rights had already been long vested with private ranchers.
Item: An Elko grand jury found that a large spring important to ranchers in the Ruby Valley are was deliberately destroyed with heavy equipment at the same time as the U.S. Forest Service had a track-mounted bulldozer in the area.
Item: The BLM routinely ignores



its own regulations intended to prevent wild horses overpopulation and starvation deaths.
Item: While the USFS is militant in its refusal to tell detector hobbyists and others where not to go on forest land, it nevertheless then prosecutes them after they have wandered into unmarked areas said by the USFS to be of supposed archaelogical sensitivity.
Item: Following the 1996 election, the BLM introduced proposed regulations seeking what critics say is a covert expansion of the agency's police powers in the West in ways that will make federal lands increasingly resemble an administrative police state in which virtually anything can be prosecuted or arbitrarily prohibited.
Item: Acting in concert, USFS employees across Nevada sought in January to generate political pressure on the state water engineer during quasi-judicial water rights hearings.
Item: Nevada BLM officials, during public protest periods for proposed Las Vegas area land exchanges sought by


 
politically connected mega-devlopers, blocked all public access to appraisals for the lands involved. Later, after news stories in Electric Nevada disclosed the officials' actions, low-level agency personnel acknowledged the secrecy had violated BLM regulations.
Do these stories reflect a chronic situation in the federal agencies?
It would not be trivial matter, if so. About 47 percent of the land in the 11 western states is controlled by either the U.S. Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management. In Nevada, only about 13 percent of land within state borders is NOT under federal control.
That's why that Electric Nevada, after a year of reporting many of these controversies, decided to step back and see how the agencies' look to other, national, observers.




Specifically, we wanted to know, how do public policy experts at some of the nation's major think-tanks view the job the Forest Service and BLM are doing?
Surprisingly, it appears there's a pretty wide consensus.
Whether the policy houses lean Democratic or Republican, and whether they seem oriented to environmentalist or resource concerns, any of them that address Western land issues pretty much agree: the federal land bureaucracies are essentially dinosaurs, not capable of doing the job they've been assigned.
In this and upcoming issues, we'll report how the policy analysts at these institutions view the agencies and what solutions they would offer.


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