Could More Public Land Actually Mean Less Conservation?

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by Reed Watson

That's the central question Holly Fretwell and Shawn Regan pose at Forbes.com, and it's an important one. Congress is currently proposing to permanently extend the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which would set aside nearly a billion dollars each year to acquire more public land. But, as Holly and Shawn suggest, there is reason to believe it won't amount to much conservation:

Federal land management has largely resulted in poor stewardship of America's most treasured natural areas. Maintenance, in particular, has been dismal. The Forest Service estimates a backlog of $5 billion in deferred maintenance projects and the National Park Service has a backlog of more than $10 billion. The outcome is overflowing sewer systems, failing roads and ruined cultural resources.

But that hasn't stopped these agencies from acquiring even more land. Since 1960 the government has taken over more than 50 million acres--an area the size of Utah.

To an increasingly conservation-minded public, putting more land in government ownership might seem sensible. But, in reality, more federal land does not necessarily mean more conservation. The LWCF only provides funds for land acquisition, not for the care and maintenance of existing lands. And given the current management needs of the 650 million acres already owned by the government, spending millions acquiring new land is irresponsible.

You can read the whole piece online here.
Reed Watson is the executive director at PERC. He is also the Director of PERC's Enviropreneur Institute, an educational program and launchpad for environmental entrepreneurs. Watson’s research focuses on the implementation of market-based solutions to natural resource conflicts. With Terry Anderson and Brandon Scarborough, he coauthored Tapping...
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