5 Federal Agencies - The Wrong Model
by Jim Beers
Five simple assumptions 100 years ago started it all. In a national environment of immigration waves, settlement and development of lands, and capitalism and entrepreneurship there arose concerns that 1.) Forests, 2.) Grasslands, 3.) Fish and Wildlife, 4.) National landmarks and historic sites, and 5.) National mineral deposits were limited resources that were disappearing. During this late 1800’s, early 1900’s period were born the five Federal functions that have grown into the sort of central government bureaucracies that are no longer appropriate to or supportive of a Republic with Constitutional guarantees of individual rights, states rights, private property, and protection of minorities and traditions. I speak here of the National Park Service, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the US Forest Service, the US Geological Survey, and the Bureau of Land Management
The Federal government assumed a new role 100 years ago as a result of the above concerns. It would no longer make un-owned land available for purchase and it would begin purchasing and managing certain private properties in the United States. These lands would be Parks and Refuges and National Forests and Grasslands that would 1.) preserve historic areas and landmarks for all Americans; 2.) provide for the needs of birds that migrated to and from other countries; 3.) manage remote forests and grasslands to provide timber, grazing, and public uses like hunting and fishing and camping in sustainable amounts while supporting rural communities and national interests; and 4.) inventorying all the mineral deposits in the nation to prevent their depletion.
Who could have really argued with any of this? Egrets were being killed in Florida in large numbers for New York-designer Ladies’ hats. Rough clearcuts of woodlands without any thought to erosion or reforestation on steep slopes were photographed by the more sophisticated cameras and published in urban papers. Both public and private lands were grazed without benefit of our sophisticated knowledge of the impacts of certain amounts of grazing at certain times and in certain rotations tailored to various climates and plant species. Civil War Battlefields and western geographic landmarks were being developed and closed to public access. Every one (even including that maven of capitalism Andrew Carnegie) worried openly about the pending depletion of minerals and ores. Who but the Federal government could do anything to stem this tide washing over the country? Does any of this sound like “Global Warming” or “Population Bomb” or “Global Cooling” or “Desertification” or “Acid Rain” rhetoric? If it doesn’t, it should.
Today, what American could imagine life without these stalwart Federal agencies? I’ll bet that large numbers of schoolchildren and many of their teachers believe that such agencies and Federal functions have always existed. It probably seems unimaginable to question their operations or their missions but that is precisely what must be done.
Forget for a moment and set aside any beliefs you may have about whether there was any other reasonable alternative to our forefathers 100 years ago. Set aside the subsequent (90 years ago) Constitutional changes that 1.) made US Senators no longer representatives of their state but national “Lords” representative of national causes and 2.) authorized the Federal government to tax incomes thereby providing a limitless source of income to the burgeoning Federal bureaucracy. Disregard too the national social experiments that began 80 years ago and continue to this day from Prohibition and the New Deal to The Great Society and the recent Environmental/Animal Rights Movement. Even though all of these things have contributed to the current state of affairs with these 5 Federal agencies, they are water under the bridge. Let’s look at these agencies today and ask ourselves, why they exist and what is the alternative?
I highly recommend reading Bjorn Lomborg’s Skeptical Environmentalist, particularly Chapter 12, titled “Non-Energy resources”. Although almost anyone you talk to today assumes that we are “running out of minerals”, nothing could be farther from the truth. This myth (like overpopulation and climate change fears, etc.) goes back into antiquity. The truth is “The prices of nearly all (mineral) resources have been declining over the last century, and despite an astounding increase in production of a large number of important raw materials they today have more years of consumption left than they did previously.” Why do we have more resources? Because we continuously find new deposits, we get better at extracting resources and using them effectively, we recycle, we substitute, and lastly the demand has not grown exponentially as forecasted by the experts. As one example, “since the US Geological Survey in 1957 estimated the world resource (of iron) at 25 Billion Tons, we have used 35 Billion Tons, and now the reserve base estimate is at some 300 Billion Tons.”
The point here is not to ridicule the US Geological Survey but to question whether such a Federal function organized to “Survey” the nation is relevant or needed today. The market (i.e. private enterprise) finds and substitutes and develops these resources while the “Survey” helps to conceal from the public the oil resources of the North Slope of Alaska and fights for more and more budget and power from Congress each year to do what? Surely a much smaller and radically redesigned US Geology Office with an advisory (to the government AND the public) is all that is needed to stay connected to the public’s business as it pertains to “geology”.
Although the US Forest Service and the US Bureau of Land Management are in different Departments (Agriculture and Interior) they have become Federal land-owner behemoth twins. They control millions of acres all over the nation but primarily in the West. They bear no resemblance to the original agencies formed to “preserve” and “manage” certain forests and grasslands of this nation. I mention them together (bureaucrats are shuddering at this) because they have both “evolved” radically over the past 35 years in the same sad direction. Today they discourage grazing and logging. They close down roads and limit access to public lands. They pay less and less “taxes” (i.e. the initially promised “revenue-sharing” and “payment-in-lieu-of-taxes”) to local governments. They are used as tools to restrict hunting and trapping by employing more restrictive requirements (no dogs, no trapping, etc.). They no longer reduce the build-up of fire material as they opine for “native ecosystems” and declare jihads on “Invasive Species” while ignoring the harmful plants and animals jeopardizing hunting, ranching, fishing, logging, etc. They cite immeasurable tasks (ecosystems, cooperation, etc.) while proposing measurements far into the future (acres of this, numbers of that) that are neither realistic nor anything anyone will be held accountable for if for no other reason than that there will be a new President when they supposedly “come due”. The US Forest Service “Strategic Plan” claims first a role to “care for the Nation’s forest and grassland ecosystems”. It’s “Management Principles” list first, “Managing the natural resources of the Nation’s forests and grasslands”. They both babble endlessly about all their “problems” (complex expectations, urban populations, citizen “demand” for recreation, and development) while whining (the correct term) about how they will strive to “Sustain the Nation’s Resources”.
Consider for a moment how they operate today. They are National Overseers. Their Plans and Principles could very easily have been copied from the Socialist Plans published in Berlin in the 1930’s or the Ten-Year Plans ground out in Peking or Moscow 50 years ago. That is not dramatic overstatement. These Plans and operations have all the characteristics of centrally-planned documents for an all-powerful government that assumes absolute power over individuals, property, and all other subservient levels of government. While the dictatorships I cited used arrest, torture, and destruction to assure compliance, these agencies use Federal funding as bribery of state bureaucrats and politicians and “partnerships” with radical groups that provide votes and political support in return for power-sharing. These two agencies and the land they control should either be 1.) reoriented to sustainable use of all the resources they contain in order to support local communities and fund management as much as possible while providing recreation consistent with those goals or, 2.) leased or sold to private enterprise or individuals with provisions for public use and resource utilization. These two, like the next two are only going to become bigger problems unless and until they are reformed.
The National Park Service began with a “stop hunting” (of big game animals in Yellowstone) mind-set and mandate. They not only have never gotten over it, it has spread to every Park and every employee. They have become the Federal missionaries of the Environmental/Animal Rights agenda. Parks don’t allow hunting or trapping or fishing unless specifically forced to. They don’t harvest trees or allow grazing of grasslands where it doesn’t conflict with preserving the Park purpose. Parks close state and county highways with impunity. They set their own (Federally enforced) speed limits and rules on state and county highways in Parks. They claim “viewshed” rights on what can be seen from the Park. They always need “more” surrounding land and are probably the worst Federal “neighbor” a person or community or county or state can have. If you suggest to a Park employee that the Park (purchased from private landowners in nearly every instance) is part of a state or community they will look at you like you are nuts. They are conduits for funds to their private lobby groups (“Historic”, “Preservation”, “Heritage”, “Societies”, etc.) that (like The Nature Conservancy) frustrate private development and obfuscate rural life as future Federal acquisitions await funding from politicians running for reelection. They are vehicles for the most egregious Federal growth proposals: none being greater or more immeasurable than the infamous “Invasive Species” scam.
Only one week ago (19 March 2007) the House of Representatives passed (216-10, with every Democrat and 174 Republicans supporting it and only 10 Republicans opposing it) the National Park System “Natural Resource Protection Act”. This will authorize the National Park Service to enter into agreements (i.e. bribe with Federal funds) with everybody from “private non-profit organizations” and “private landowners” to “State local or tribal governments”, “other public entities”, and “educational institutions”. (Anyone left out should raise their hand!) The three things the “agreements” will provide for are 1.) “the preservation, conservation, and restoration of coastal and riparian systems, watersheds, and wetlands” (note that they don’t have to be “in” the Park), 2.) preventing, controlling, or eradicating invasive exotic species that are within… or adjacent to a Unit of the National Park System”, and 3.) “restoration of natural resources, including native wildlife habitat or ecosystems”. NOTE: “Invasive exotic is merely a new word of art to avoid the controversy and rightful objections to any Federal action based on “native”, non-native”, or “invasive” claims. It is the sort of word obfuscation that confuses the public and maintains the “high-priest” status of professors and bureaucrats manipulating it. Also read the #3 carefully. Is it “native wildlife”? or “native habitat for wildlife”? or “native ecosystem”? or whatever in “Hades” that last one might be meant to convey. Nevertheless it is immeasurable and unlimited and will go on forever with an annual need for “more” and by golly everyone will vote for all those Democrats and the 174 Republicans because they are all such caring and sensitive boys and girls.
The National Park Service should declare a religious tax-exempt status and be done with it. The Park Units should go in with the Forests and BLM lands and be managed for sustainable resource use and recreation consistent with the purpose for which the Park was established. There is NO reason why hunting, fishing, trapping, logging, or leased grazing in Parks cannot be conducted where feasible. Parks can generate revenue and support local communities while providing public benefit and preserving national landmarks and historic sites. In fact that would be the American way, especially now that we have 100 years of history and the current sad state of political manipulation and Federal power abuse to cite.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service needs the least explanation of the need for reform than any of the other 4. Aside from controlling millions of acres, they are as susceptible to land management non-management as any of the others. Although millions of acres of refuges were purchased for “waterfowl nesting, migration, and wintering habitat” the last Administration tried to change that all overnight into “Native Ecosystems”. That will happen again, sooner than you think. What can I say about “taking private property without compensation” or the closure of west coast logging and elimination of southern old-growth forests or the cynical use of deadly predators (wolves and grizzly bears) to vacate rural communities and countryside or the bribery of Universities to support the absence of management for marine mammals or the outrageous use of a bird extinct for 60 years to stop a dredging project and a runway construction project. This agency is a past master at doing all this and more while publicizing pictures of young female employees in uniform holding wolf pups or writing down some “scientific observation” on a clipboard in front of a mountain landscape. They are one of the most valuable political props for politicians “running” for reelection as Refuge ribbon-cuttings and standing next to a guy with a big glove holding an eagle gets more votes in the city than shaking hands commuter trains for a week. Whether it is exotic wildlife owners being driven out of business in Texas or Platte River water users being forced to reduce their water use or developers being shut down (by the same “regulators” that knowingly allowed the US Army Corps of Engineers to pollute the Potomac River by dumping tons of deadly pollution through a National Park into the River and onto the spawning ground of the ENDANGERED shortnose sturgeon for over 20 years) the chorus of calls for reform could not be greater.
The National Refuges should be combined with the National Parks and National Forests and Grasslands and managed for uses and revenues consistent with the purpose stated in the legislation that established them. All the Law Enforcement personnel and operations should likewise be combined and brought to a level consistent with the need to manage those lands. The remaining geologists and research “scientists” working for all five agencies should be in one unit and share resources as they bridge the area between the research conducted outside the agencies and the needs of agencies themselves.
Doing this would reduce the shenanigans (budget-wise, politically, with the UN, with the NGO’s, with the University professors, etc.) by putting these 5 together and reducing their budget and personnel. I know this goes against the tide of “we need to be separate”, we are so big now”, “we are so complex”, “they shouldn’t be telling ‘us’ what to do”, etc., etc. Oversight would be easier to force on the Federal politicians that have been utilizing all these agencies rather than keeping them in line. It would also return a big share of the national life to the citizens of this country. An agency beholden to local communities (as opposed national and international radical groups) is less likely to be forcing wolves on people, closing roads, and starting fires that they then turn around to say that the fire “proves” that people shouldn’t live and work and raise families “there” (so government should buy it. Combining and reducing them would squeeze out all the propaganda and lobbying thinly disguised as “environmental education” and “ecosystem this and that” as well as the mischief about roads and viewsheds and the “need” for more (which should be strictly a political decision, not a method of collusion for the mutual benefit of bureaucrats and politicians). If this combination of 5 Federal agencies has more than 1/3 of the personnel that the 5 have today, it would be overstaffed.
These agencies are THE WRONG MODEL for America. They represent an antiquated model appropriate to a nation at a loss as to where unfettered growth was leading (would that they only knew the good and the bad of where such growth has led). This model today is appropriate to governments heading to socialism or world government or to dictatorships.
Maybe those ten Republicans (that voted NO on that feel-good Park Agreements trash) are the place to start. That means electing 208 more Federal politicians in the House of Representatives next year that understand this and will stand up and be counted. Ten down and 208 to go: as they are prone to say in North Dakota “Uf-da”.
24 March 2007
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- Jim Beers is a retired US Fish & Wildlife Service Wildlife Biologist, Special Agent, Refuge Manager, Wetlands Biologist, and Congressional Fellow. He was stationed in North Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York City, and Washington DC. He also served as a US Navy Line Officer in the western Pacific and on Adak, Alaska in the Aleutian Islands. He has worked for the Utah Fish & Game, Minneapolis Police Department, and as a Security Supervisor in Washington, DC. He testified three times before Congress; twice regarding the theft by the US Fish & Wildlife Service of $45 to 60 Million from State fish and wildlife funds and once in opposition to expanding Federal Invasive Species authority. He resides in Centreville, Virginia with his wife of many decades