Interior Reforms Contain the Unnecessary Expansion of Federal Lands | Citizens Against Government Waste

Interior Reforms Contain the Unnecessary Expansion of Federal Lands

The WasteWatcher

Under the Trump administration, the Department of the Interior (DOI) continues to purge itself of chronic waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement.  This includes a historic reorganization plan to consolidate land regions from more than 50 down to 13 and the creation of an online grant database to enhance transparency, accountability, and efficiency.  

On June 5, 2019, DOI Secretary David Bernhardt announced his latest effort that would expand hunting and fishing access to 74 national wildlife refuges and 15 national fish hatcheries across 1.4 million acres of public land.  “Hunting and fishing are more than just traditional pastimes as they are also vital to the conservation of our lands and waters, our outdoor recreation economy, and our American way of life,” said Secretary Bernhardt.

The proposal also eases the regulatory burden put on taxpayers, by revising refuge-specific hunting and fishing guidelines to more closely align with state regulations. Fish and Wildlife Service Principal Deputy Director Margaret Everson said that, “By aligning our refuge regulations with our state partners we are reducing confusion and the regulatory burden on the American public, helping ensure the tradition and benefits of hunting and fishing can continue.”  

More than 101 million Americans partake in wildlife-related recreation, which accounts for more than $156 billion in economic activity.  However, until this and other recent DOI rules to expand public land access, hunting and fishing opportunities were significantly stifled.  

The Antiquities Act of 1906 was created to establish national monuments that serve to preserve historic sites and protect their environment.  President Theodore Roosevelt had laudable goals when signing the bill into law and the number and size of monuments continued to grow through the present day.  However, the Antiquities Act has suffered the same fate of other well intentioned laws by expanding beyond its charter and overregulating outdoorsmen and women.  The Antiquities Act itself states that monuments should be kept to “"the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected."  Despite this, the government has established 158 monuments, including 27 monuments that are over 100,000 acres.

During the Obama administration, the total acreage of areas covered by the Antiquities Act was expanded by a whopping 554 million acres.  The Pacific Ocean saw the largest expansion, outgrowing what would be considered a reasonable size to protect wildlife.  Such expansion subsequently damaged the fishing industry.  For example, the Papahanaumokuakea monument near Hawaii is an estimated 372,848,597 acres.  Such a vast monument severely restricts fishing operations, putting U.S. fishermen at a disadvantage against international competitors who do not have to abide by the same restrictions.

Instead of allowing the unbridled expansion of government-owned land, DOI’s latest proposal is a step in the right direction toward improving land and water conservation, taking full advantage of economic opportunities, and relieving taxpayers of burdensome and outdated wildlife regulations.

--  Blake Leonard

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