The federal government owns 640 million acres in the United States, totaling more than one-quarter of the nation and nearly half of the American West. From national parks and forests to rangelands and mineral resources, effective public land management is critical for conservation and prosperity. But today’s federal land agencies face a host of challenges, including growing maintenance backlogs, poor environmental stewardship, and excessive “analysis paralysis” that increases costs and delays effective management.
Making matters worse, many of the laws and regulations governing public lands create immense conflict, litigation, and political controversy, which tears at the social fabric of many western communities. Today, public lands are more likely to provoke acrimony than to encourage innovation and cooperation among competing users. Decisions are often made in Washington D.C., or in the courts rather than resolved cooperatively by local people or managers on the ground.
We should create a system of conservation leasing that allows groups to resolve their competing demands over the use of public lands through voluntary negotiation—just as they often do on private lands today.