I really enjoyed this book. And learned quite a bit about public lands in the United States. The format tends to be one section on the history of public lands, followed by the author in that setting in the present.
We have spent a lot of time, since moving out West, in national parks, national forests, national monuments, and BLM land. This book helped me understand the various types of public lands, the history behind many of them, and some of the current issues facing public land management.
A result is that I tend to take a little bit more patient approach with others in public land settings. For example, I am a bit more patient with crowds at national parks, since that ensures those places will remain that way (and maybe be expanded). However, I still believe owners of off-leash dogs who interfere with my Strava PR’s on our local trails to be communists (maybe kidding).
Three take-aways from the book:
- Public Lands
“Unbeknownst to many, American citizens are collective co-owners of an incredible swath of land across the country. Approximately 640 million acres of it. That’s roughly 28 percent of the total United States landmass (an area larger than Alaska, Texas, and New York combined).”
Growing up and residing primarily on the East Coast, I just didn’t appreciate the scale of Federal public lands nor the various types. Having lived out West here for a bit, I understand all that a little better and can appreciate some of the issues.
- Land Transfer Movement
“I’d learned over the preceding months that this idea, the disposal of public lands, had been proposed many times over the previous hundred years by a rotating cast of industrial-age robber-baron businessmen, lobbyists, and powerful politicians. The stale argument had been resurrected again for the twenty-first century, but this time it was supported by both radicals like Bundy and mainstream politicians.”
Land transfer proposals generally seem to shift land use in favor of one demographic or land user, typically “extractive industries (oil & gas, mining, logging, etc.)” vs. a more balanced approach across different types of users that are mandated under Federal stewardship.
“I explained how, if managed the right way, these landscapes could be shared and enjoyed by all sorts of people. Many of the nation’s national forests and refuges and BLM lands are multi-use – with hikers and hunters, fishermen and backpackers, horse riders and rock climbers all coexisting in the same space. In many cases, recreational uses coexist with commodity uses too. Loggers and bird-watches often use the same forests. Hikers and ranchers might enjoy and utilize the same desert spread.”
- State vs. Federal Land Ownership
“Public land management by states can be very different than that by the Federal government. As I learned over the course of my journey, the US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (the governing agencies for the public lands most discussed for transfer) are both mandated by law to manage their lands with multiple-use and sustained-yield principles, as well as strong conservation and recreation goals. In most cases, state lands are managed differently. Many states have laws that require them to manage their land holdings for maximum profit or solely in support of specific beneficiaries, such as public schools. On top of that, many states allow more relaxed environmental regulations on their lands, making it easier for rampant resource extraction to occur.”
In general, I think I would spend some time scrutinizing the true motivations of anyone lobbying for Federal lands to be transferred out of Federal custody. I am not sure they are radical, I think they are mostly likely just selfish.
P.S. I really like this shirt.
A few other recent book reviews: