NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Federal Land Purchases: Bad News For The Deficit, The Economy and Lands

August 19, 2010

The Obama administration's plan to acquire millions of acres of private land is a bad idea since the government cannot maintain the lands it already owns, according to H. Sterling Burnett, a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis. 

According to Burnett: 

  • The federal government owns approximately one-third of the land in the United States, and in some states almost 90 percent of land is government owned.
  • However, millions of acres of government-owned land are lost to wildfires due largely to federal mismanagement.
  • National parks -- the crown jewels of the federal estate -- suffer from a more than $9 billion backlog for repairs, routine maintenance and improvements.  

"Our country was never meant to be a crown colony or federal estate, and in this economy, it hardly seems right to increase funding to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which will be used to purchase private lands," says Burnett. 

With the government having to bail out states just to keep teachers, police and firefighters employed and basic services functioning, and at a time when many federal programs are being cut to fund other priorities, now is not the time for the federal government to spend money acquiring more land, notes Burnett: 

  • Instead, non-environmentally unique lands could be sold to the states, non-profit organizations or to private companies or individuals who could put them into productive use, actually generating revenue and reducing the deficit rather than continuing to be a drain on the federal budget.
  • After reducing the acres that the government owns, we should put a permanent cap on the total percentage that it can own.
  • Then, rather than using the money put into the LWCF to purchase more land, it could be used to improve, maintain and better manage the lands that the government already owns.  

"This would be a win-win for the public, the environment and the federal Treasury," says Burnett. 

Source: H. Sterling Burnett, "Federal Land Purchases: Bad News For The Deficit, The Economy and Lands," National Center for Policy Analysis, August 19, 2010. 


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