- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 10, 2000

As former federal parks chief James Ridenour describes it, he was visiting Sequoia National Park when he stumbled onto a scene that besmirched one of this country's natural treasures. "I noticed water running down the pavement and upon closer look," he said, "I noticed toilet paper. The old sewer system was overloaded and the pipes were clogged up. I couldn't believe it; here we were trying to set the environmental standard for the nation and we were in blatant violation of the standards ourselves." He described the sight in a 1994 book titled, "The National Parks Compromised: Pork Barrel Politics and America's Treasures."

The scene is emblematic of the federal government's brand of land management. Already it owns one-third of all U.S. land, and what it has not "overloaded" with sewage, it has routinely exposed to the likes of overgrazing, catastrophic fire and more all while managing to lose money. The National Park Service alone faces an estimated repair backlog of $5 billion. Why would anyone give the feds still more land to mismanage?

Ask Alaska Rep. Don Young. The House Resources Committee chairman has joined with Rep. George Miller, Democrat of California, to propose a "conservation" bill known as the Conservation and Reinvestment Act that would give U.S. agencies some $45 billion over 15 years to buy more private land to add to already bloated government holdings. The legislation, which is scheduled for a vote as early as today, also sets aside funds to repair beaches and "ecosystems," build soccer fields and urban parks and to protect wildlife.

Not surprisingly, critics point out, many of the projects reek of pork-barrel spending of the kind Mr. Ridenour describes in his book. There's money ranging from road and dock construction in Louisiana for supporters like Rep. Billy Tauzin and Sen. Mary Landrieu to hiring more police officers for Eskimos in Alaska. On the whole, Alaska would receive the equivalent of $272 per capita annually, compared to $11 per capita for the average state.

What would the environment get out of all this? Enriched government planners with a ticket to expand their turf. Consider a few snapshots of their record over the last decade or so. A 1988 General Accounting Office (GAO) study found that 60 percent of the Bureau of Land Management's grazing allotments to ranchers suffered from overgrazing and that the agency was doing nothing to solve the problem. A 1999 GAO study estimated that at least 39 million acres of federal forest land are at extreme risk of catastrophic wildfire. A Utah State researcher, writing in a 1997 report for the Political Economy Research Center, accused the federal government of "ecological malpractice" in Yellowstone National Park. Overpopulation of elk and bison there resulted in not just mass starvation of the animals but destruction of plants, habitat and biodiversity.

Part of the problem, of course, is that federal land managers are subject to the pork-barrel impulses of lawmakers, conflicting lobbying campaigns from one interest group or another and a lack of resources. But it's also true that mismanagement is a function of distant central planning that operates by political whim rather than market forces. There's a reason the Soviet Union had to blame 70 consecutive years of poor agricultural harvests on bad weather, and it has nothing to do with weather. Central planners simply aren't capable of sorting out the countless individual decisions that help supply meet demand, whether the product is shoes, corn or park land.

The old Eastern-bloc nations found that out the hard way. Someone needs to explain it to Reps. Young and Miller.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide