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Paul Bonnifield: Public land agencies crippled by Congress

A few weeks past, the Steamboat Pilot & Today ran an article telling about the financial difficulty of the U.S. Forest Service at Vail. Their budget was so small and restricted they could not do the basic tasks or trail maintenance without begging for money from city and county governments.

That is an old ploy designed to totally cripple an agency, bureau or park. The Bureau of Land Management was intentionally under-funded from its inception in 1934 (Taylor Grazing) until the 1970s when it finally received a mission statement and full funding.

Through the early years, it was a captive agency depending on grazing fees and revenue from energy and mining companies. The businesses paying the bills called the shots and determined what would be done, who would be in charge and who made the rules. The BLM was simply a store-front operation.

For at least two decades, all public land agencies have been under-funded and deliberately crippled by Congress. Various conservative lobby groups and businesses have pointed at the agencies and condemned them for not carrying out their mission and demanding either the sale of the land to private interests, turning the land over to the states or raising operation funds through fees or royalties from the sale of timber, oil/gas leases, grazing or mining — store-front operations.

Adding to the brew, Congress has consistently delayed funding until late in the season — too late to complete projects. The projects are on a use-or lose-basis. So, when the funds are not spent, Congress cuts the budget claiming the funds were not needed.

In September, Congress will again pass a late budget. Real money funding for public lands will decrease, necessary projects will not be done, and again, the agencies will be described as evil and the employees incompetent. In the name of the people, lobby groups will demand eliminating the agencies through sale to private owners, gifts to states or submitting to store front operations. The justification for the action will be “necessity requires it,” and the nation must return to the glorious past.

Follow the money. It has much to say.

Paul Bonnifield

Yampa


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