President Clinton's presidential order to drive man and his works from much of southern Utah makes political sense, but makes for very bad policy. Unfortunately this blatant abuse of presidential power for political gain is in keeping with the history of federal land management.
The new Escalante National Monument straddles Kane and Garfield counties in Southern Utah. These counties cover nearly 6 million acres with a total population of less than ten thousand people. The new monument encompasses 1.7 million acres, the center of which is known as the Kaiparowits Plateau, a nearly treeless and waterless landscape of 500,000 acres. Underneath this barren desert are low sulfur coal deposits worth as much as $1 trillion.
Outside of coal mining there is no reason for anyone to go into the Kaiparowits. There are no roads. Anyone attempting to hike into the area would not get far due to the lack of water. In addition, the scenery is far less dramatic than the nearby Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Parks, which are far more accessible.
In declaring the Kaiparowits Plateau part of a national monument Clinton virtually ensured that the coal reserves will remain untouched. Given its geography and lack of water, its new designation will guarantee that the Kaiparowits Plateau will benefit no one.
Political management has always meant management on behalf of special interests. Under one presidency, economic interests may dominate while under another ecological interests prevail. Each side grabs what it can, knowing that its power may dissipate with the next election. The stability essential for sustainable use becomes impossible.
The evidence of this is plentiful. America's public lands are in dismal shape. Yellowstone Park is so overrun with elk that other animals, such as the beaver, have disappeared. Grazing lands have lost productivity and are threatened by erosion. Other public lands also suffer from severe mismanagement. Bureaucrats are lousy land managers.
Strangely, environmentalists maintain their faith in the political sector. They frequently complain about uneconomical timber sales in our national forests. But subsidized output is the very core of any politicized system. Only government, with access to the public's wealth, can sustain the unprofitable harvest of trees over long periods of time.
In contrast, consider resource development on private lands — even those controlled by environmental groups. The Rainey Refuge in Louisiana owned by the Audubon Society was located in the middle of an oil field. They were able to permit drilling, while also protecting their ecological priorities. Private property encourages owners to consider all desires.
Political management creates another problem. Property owners fear that their holdings will be nationalized or otherwise restricted. Domestic oil exploration has nearly disappeared in the U.S. And the decision to block the New World mine in Montana as well as coal mining in Utah, makes it clear that all mining activities are endangered.
The fear of sudden and unexpected loss ensures that owners will seek to quickly liquidate their investments. As a result business will approximate the “rape, ruin and run” caricature perpetuated by market critics. In the Pacific Northwest, for example, efforts to ban logging of old growth forests through the endangered species act has encouraged accelerated harvest in privately owned forest lands. Owners face a “use it or lose it” dilemma and respond accordingly.
Under Clinton, the joke of a few years ago — had God not driven man from the Garden of Eden, the Sierra Club would have — has become a reality. The ecological apartheid view that we must segregate man from nature is foolish. For a powerful political elite to enforce this eco-theocratic vision on America is morally reprehensible.
–Fred L. Smith