Government Has Poorly Managed Public Lands

Private Sector Should be Given Chance Where Government Has Failed, says NCPA Report


DALLAS (January 17, 2007) - Government has poorly managed the public's natural resources as it struggles to balance public land uses, such as logging and recreation, with preservation of lands in their original state, according to a new report from the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA).  As a result, public lands have been degraded and the wildlife that depends on them destroyed. 

"Because of shifting priorities, national parks and forests have at times been either overused or neglected," said NCPA Senior Fellow H. Sterling Burnett.  "Too many people using anything will destroy it, and national parks - many of which are ecologically fragile - are no exception."

The NCPA report notes the National Park Service has maintained low or no entrance fees to encourage the maximum number of visitors, but this has led to overuse and insufficient funds for properly maintaining roads and facilities.  It has also suppressed natural fires - while spending billions of dollars fighting forest fires.  And since deer, elk, pronghorn sheep and bison are popular park attractions, such predators as wolves and bears were hunted and trapped.  This has come at a high price.  For example:

  • In the most popular parks, visitors regularly complain of air pollution from automobiles, cars interfering with scenic views and traffic jams hampering the natural experience.
  • The absence of predators to regulate populations and periodic fires to stimulate plant growth led to an overpopulation of grazing animals.
  • In Yellowstone, elk have almost entirely driven out deer, bighorn and pronghorn sheep, and beaver populations, or pushed them into poor habitats, leaving them prey to disease and boom-and-bust population cycles.

In contrast, individuals and private organizations have a long history of protecting environmentally valuable lands. For instance:

  • The Audubon Society maintains more than 100 sanctuaries and nature centers.
  • The Nature Conservancy protects and maintains 15 million acres in the U.S. in nearly 1,400 private preserves -- an area greater than the states of Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey and Rhode Island combined.

"The concept of ownership can be extended to public lands," says Burnett.  "Some federal lands could be sold or auctioned off to private parties (individuals, companies or nonprofit organizations).  Or management could be transferred to congressionally-approved boards or to states or counties that have demonstrated superior economic and environmental performance," says Burnett.