By Bob Williams
Beginning October 1, Americans watched the political spectacle of a federal government closed for business. While it is easy to disengage from the events happening in Washington, DC, the shutdown imposes hardships disproportionally on some citizens.
Those of us living in the states west of Colorado face deep and unique struggles because the federal government holds much of our land in trust. Under the enabling acts, in which states were admitted to the union, the federal government was to dispose of these lands with 95% of the funds used to pay down the national debt and 5% going to the states for common schools. The federal government has not honored this agreement.
The federal government controls more than 50 percent of land in states west of Colorado. Federal control of public lands destroyed forests and watersheds, shutting off access, constricting economic opportunity, breaking state and local government budgets, and threatening our way of life. The failed policies of federally managed lands created a tinderbox across the west. The situation is untenable and recent events wreaked further havoc on our states.
Vital portions of our local economies are severely impacted by the shut down. Access to hunting areas are blocked, national parks have been closed, roadside views of Mt Rushmore have been blocked, private businesses with a lease on federal lands have been closed, and private businesses are hindered from operating at full capacity as a result. Thousands of Westerners are out of work and unable to make ends meet.
The federal government, prevented from responding quickly and adequately to problems facing our communities, effectively handcuffs our states. We are forced wait on the federal government for permission just to keep our communities open for business.
For ten days, the federal government refused to allow the states to reopen the parks. On October 10, the White House changed its tune, agreeing to let the states open some of our parks; however, we would have to use our own money and would not be given full control.
This is not a long-term solution, and the federal government cannot continue to play games with us. Instead, the federal government should allow states west of Colorado the same control and ownership of land they gave to states in the east. Five states already signed laws to explore The Transfer of Public Lands.
Plain and simple, the federal government is ill equipped to handle the demands of land management, particularly with respect to fighting forest fires. Time and time again, states prove that, given the flexibility and ability to manage our resources, states can innovate and improve our communities.
The problem will continue until those closest to the problem are empowered with the flexibility and legal authority to solve it. America’s Westerners are resourceful and resilient. The federal government’s ownership is only getting in the way of our citizens’ ability to solve problems.
Bob Williams is the President of State Budget Solutions, who, with State Policy Network, manages Federalism in Action, a 501(c)(3) non-partisan, non-profit organization, committed to changing how state and local government does business. Federalism in Action provides research, solutions and messages that arm policy leaders to win tangible victories for citizen rule, solving problems by restoring local control and checking the harmful centralization of government power in Washington.