Knowledge and Courage: What the West Needs to Take Back Our Public Lands

By Ken Ivory

The federal government continues to control more than 50% of all lands in the western United States. Locked up in these federally controlled lands are more than $150 trillion in mineral values and more recoverable oil―in Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming alone―than in the rest of the world combined. Failed federal forest policies prevent harvesting timber, which would improve forest conditions and wildfire resilience, provide useful consumer products and renewable energy feedstock, and revitalize rural schools and communities. FBI criminal activity alerts now warn that terrorists are encouraging the use of wildfire in fuel-laden federal forests as weapons for jihad.

There is no good reason for the federal government to retain control over these lands and resources in states like Oregon. We in the West have, in good faith, simply tolerated the federal government’s delay in honoring its more than 200-year-old obligation to transfer title to these lands for so long that now most people assume there must be some valid reason the federal government controls our lands and resources.

But there is none. At a recent Continuing Legal Education seminar to several dozen lawyers, a law professor (who is frequently quoted as saying it is “clearly unconstitutional” for states to take action to secure the transfer of title to their public lands) displayed an annual average precipitation map indicating that the federal government retains control of western lands because they are “arid.”

The second reason he gave was that the founders of the western states simply gave up their lands as a sort of ransom for the privilege of statehood, citing half a sentence in the statehood enabling acts: “… forever disclaim all right and title….” The funny thing is, this same half sentence is word-for-word the same in the statehood enabling acts of almost all states east of Colorado, where the federal government did dispose of their public lands.

In fact, for decades, as much as 90% of the lands in Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida were kept under federal control. Then, one man had the knowledge and courage to rally citizens to compel Congress to transfer title to their public lands. His name was Thomas Hart Benton, a Democratic U.S. Senator from Missouri featured in President John F. Kennedy’s best-selling book Profiles in Courage.

The statehood enabling acts promising to transfer title to the public lands are the same for all states west and east of Colorado. It’s been done before―repeatedly and recently. And, returning these lands to state control is the only solution big enough to fund education; better care for our lands and forests; protect access; create jobs; and grow local, state, and national economies and tax base.

If we fail to stand up and take action to secure state and local control of our lands and abundant resources, it will not be because it is illegal, unconstitutional, or impossible. It will only be because we―and the local, state, and national leaders we “hire”―lack the knowledge and the courage to do what has been successfully done before.

Do your local, state, and national leaders know why there is a difference between the way the federal government has handled eastern and western lands? Have you inquired what specifically they are doing to compel Congress to honor the same statehood promise for our children and our future that Congress already kept with Hawaii and all states east of Colorado? Have you asked them what groups or influential individuals they will bring to the effort? Have you asked them what specifically you can do to help?

Now is the time to let our representatives know how transferring federally controlled lands back to the state can vastly benefit Oregon’s economy while preserving and using wisely our wealth of natural resources.

Ken Ivory is president of the American Lands Council and a member of the Utah House of Representatives. He was a guest speaker on this issue for Cascade Policy Institute in November 2013.

Metro’s War on Single-Family Housing Continues

For more than a decade, the regional government, Metro, has been quietly herding people into high-density neighborhoods. For those unaware of this policy, the recently announced plans for 80 acres of development near the light rail station at Sunset Transit Center should be a wake-up call: The developers plan to build 2,175 new housing units, and none of them will be single-family homes. In order to meet Metro-imposed density requirements, the project will be dominated by mid-rise apartment complexes, along with commercial and retail buildings.

Metro anticipates that virtually all future development projects will be similar. In draft documents for a planning exercise called “Climate Smart Communities,” Metro notes that the current number of Portland-area households in mixed-use neighborhoods is 26%. By 2035, that number likely will rise to at least 36%. No options for reducing density are being studied.

Metro’s vision of ubiquitous apartment bunkers means that the region will slowly become a childfree zone, because few parents wish to raise their children in vertical housing. Portland parents, and those who hope to become parents, should ask hard questions about why the Metro Council thinks this is a great leap forward for livability.

John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

Money for Nothing

On December 18 Metro referred a five-year local option levy of 9.6 cents per $1,000 of taxable assessed value to the voters for consideration in the May election. If passed, the measure would raise about $10 million annually for maintenance of 12,400 acres of land Metro bought over the past decade with public tax dollars.

Unfortunately, very few voters will ever get to visit those areas. Most of the large natural areas are far from population centers, such as the 1,200-acre Chehalem Ridge tract near Gaston or the 1,100 acres purchased in the Sandy River Gorge.

More importantly, Metro doesn’t want you there. The agency has announced that if the levy passes, only five to fifteen percent of the funds each year would be used to provide access for the public, such as signage, parking facilities, public rest rooms, or trails. Many of the access points, now gated, would remain closed. This is because Metro’s top priority is restoring natural areas for wildlife, fish, and water quality.

Metro likes to promote the concept of “nature in the neighborhood,” but when it comes to spending our tax dollars to buy up land, neighborhoods will be locked out. The levy should be rejected until these priorities change.

John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

Portland’s Moody Avenue Project: Subtraction by Addition

Portland Mayor Sam Adams announced Monday that the reconstruction of Moody Avenue in the South Waterfront neighborhood was finally complete after 19 months of work. This $51 million project rebuilt 3,200 linear feet of the street by raising it 14 feet and widening the right-of-way to 75 feet, enough space to accommodate a six-lane freeway.

 

However, despite the huge expansion, motorists are actually worse off than they were before. Only two lanes are reserved for motor vehicles, and they now have to share space with the slow streetcar, which blocks traffic four times an hour in each direction. Virtually all of the new right-of-way is allocated to bicyclists and pedestrians, who only account for 13% of total passenger throughput on the street.

 

Motor vehicles do the heaving lifting, moving 63% of all passenger trips on Moody. Not only is this a large number, but it’s growing: Auto traffic is up 55% from just two years ago. As the district continues to develop, this road will be unable to handle future traffic loads.

 

The Moody Avenue project was a waste of $52 million, and it now has the South Waterfront district locked into a street pattern that is doomed to fail. Taxpayers should demand better from their elected leaders.

John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

Level Playing Field Equals Loss of Economic Freedoms

Karla Kay Edwards
Cascade Commentary

Level Playing Field Equals Loss of Economic Freedoms 

by Karla Kay Edwards

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An important discussion is taking place in Oregon among counties and agricultural interests regarding regulating activities allowed on farmlands, especially on lands zoned as Exclusive Farm Use (EFU). During the 2010 Special Legislative Session, the Oregon Legislature passed Senate Bill 1055, which addressed the ability of wineries to sell incidental items and services in conjunction with the winery as long as they do not exceed 25% of on-site sales income. 

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Mandates to Reduce Driving Will Kill Oregon’s Economy

Cascade Commentary

By Todd Wynn and John A. Charles, Jr.

Summary: Numerous federal, state and local policies aim to reduce vehicle miles travelled as a carbon-emissions reduction plan, yet rarely considered are the possible economic effects of these policies. New evidence shows that those effects are likely to damage both the environment and the economy.

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