Multiple agencies with diverse missions and overlapping interests mean management of public lands in the U.S. can get pretty confusing. But at their very root, public lands all have at least one thing in common: they are all public.
A couple weeks back you may have caught wind of a coordinated effort from Fox News' to frame a leaked Interior Department memo about land areas being considered for National Monument designation as the "administration's secret agenda" for a "sinister", "massive land grab". For me, it was a powerful reminder that either/both the news network knows very little about public lands policy or/and that their goal is to propagate misinformation to their viewers that bolsters the network's ideological bent. (And since when should major media have an ideological bent anyway?)
The uprising was based on a story Fox News picked up about Montana's only congressman, Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg, proposing to limit the president's ability to create National Monuments there. Rehberg was reacting to an Interior Department document showing 13 areas that the Obama administration was considering for designation as a National Monument, and in particular, 2.6 million acres of grassland in northeast Montana that would be used for the purpose of creating a buffalo sanctuary.
In an effort to provide a little clarity to the Fox News take on public lands, I offer you the following 7 critiques based directly on the words of Glenn Beck taken from his recent tirade about a federal 'land grab':
1. "Government is staging a full-fledged control assault on this country and, as much as I wish this weren't true, we are the ones left to fight it. Because apparently there aren't enough on the inside willing to do so."
This one is less about debunking as it is about setting the stage with a trademark Glenn Beck "I'm-gonna-scare-the-hell-out-of-you" introduction. And is it really "a full-fledged control assault" when the Federal Government already owns the land in question? Section 2 of the American Antiquities Act of 1906 states: "That the President of the United States is hereby authorized, in his discretion, to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments." [Emphasis added] While there are instances of the Federal Government using eminent domain for National Monuments, the overwhelming pattern is one of using land already owned by the U.S. Government.
2. "Look at this: It's a map of how much land is owned in America by the federal government. They own nearly 650 million acres of land — almost 30 percent of the land area of the United States."
First off, when Beck says "they", he means "we", right? Well if he didn't mean to say it, I'm going to say it for him. The National Parks, National Forests, National Monuments, National Grasslands, National Seashores, and Bureau of Land Management land are all owned by you, me, and Glenn Beck. The vast majority of federal land in the west is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. And it is the rules and culture of mixed use and open access to these lands that affords you, me, and Glenn Beck the right to roll down thousands of miles of dusty roads in the west, find a nice quiet place to pull over and pitch a tent to camp for the night — no questions asked.
3. "A 13 million acre land grab for monuments in the West. We only find out through a leak. And Obama's using the Antiquities Act of 1906, which is supposed to be "confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care." No one but progressives want this. No problem, just use executive order."
Restating the lie that this is a "land grab", Beck asserts that we only found out through a leak. But spokeswoman for the Department of the Interior, Kendra Barkoff, said the list was a "very, very, very preliminary,” internal working document that came out of a brainstorming session that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar had requested -- a list of possible areas that could be considered for National Monument designation in the West. The list is not secret at all, but simply a few areas in the west that, “may be good candidates for National Monument designation under the Antiquities Act.”
4. "But look at how it's distributed: It's overwhelmingly in the West. Nevada is almost 90 percent federally owned land. Alaska is nearly three quarters federally owned. Compare that to the East. States are in the single digits. Even Texas is only 2 percent federally owned land."
The vast majority of federally-owned land in the American west is that way because back when it was literally being given away, no one else wanted it (more on this in point no. 6, below). Second, when the United States embarked on its western expansion, it realized that there should be more some planning involved with the vast expanses of "vacant" land. In essence, they wanted to avoid the kind of land use planning, or lack thereof, that took place east of the Mississippi in this country's formative years.
5. "Why isn't government rushing to "protect" land in, say, Connecticut or New Jersey?
The simple answer: because someone or something besides the U.S. Government already owns it.
6. "Let me show you this: our national resources in comparison to federally owned land. It seems the land we are protecting is also the most oil and natural resource rich land."
After the fertile valley floors, rolling grassy hills and virtually any land located near a water source were scooped up by early settlers, what was left over was largely dry, barren, sage-covered prairie with little or no access to water and notoriously poor soil. Now, it just so happens that there are, in some cases, fossil fuel deposits on a bunch of that previously unwanted land. And traditionally there have been very few obstacles to developing those energy resources -- few obstacles with little payback to the landowners (i.e the Federal Government/you, me and Glenn Beck) thanks to the minuscule remuneration and royalty requirements of the Mining Act of 1872.
7. "Maybe we'll get [a monument] of Chairman Mao? How about Stalin? He was good at controlling the lands, I hear. And they are doing this without telling anyone. It's executive order. They don't care about what you think about it."
I wanted to close with this last quote to remind you who we are dealing with and how exactly he operates. Glenn Beck lives in a world of ideological rigidity where there are two ways of seeing things: his way and the communist way -- with little if any middle ground. Secondly, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's leadership style thus far has been anything but unilateral and dictatorial. Like his boss, President Obama, Secretary Salazar has shown that he leads by consensus and collaboration, not by decree. The memo specifically states that “further evaluations should be completed prior to any final decision, including an assessment of public and congressional support.”
Finally, if you're keeping score, the first president to use the American Antiquities Act for a National Monument was Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican, and the most recent president to use it was George W. Bush, also a Republican -- both of whom, according to Beck's logic, are pretty much Communists too.
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