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By J. P. Tangen
Special to Mining News 

Silence on public lands is deafening

Jefferson called for rebellion every 20 years, so maybe the presidential campaign portends change in management of federal lands

 

Last updated 3/20/2016 at Noon



God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion. … [T]he tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants.

- Thomas Jefferson, 1787

For openers, it appears that neither of the leading contenders for the presidency of the United States has identified any significant positions on the development of natural resources on public lands. Sen. (Hillary) Clinton, D-NY, it may be presumed, will emulate her predecessor and casually throw that portfolio to loyal supporters drawn from the environmentalist community. Mr. (Donald) Trump, on the other hand, if elected, is likely to have few Green Meanies in his cortege to recruit, and therefore will probably make random selections for key positions, which forebodes an inconsistent policy direction.

The implication of this latter uncertainty is ponderous. For those of us who view the race as a choice between the "lesser of two weevils," one would have to favor Mr. Trump. On the other hand, if your standard is to go with the devil you know, Mrs. Clinton may be your choice. Perhaps you will be just too discouraged to vote at all.

There can be no doubt that Jefferson was right, the tree of liberty must be refreshed periodically. Although he called for such nurturing to occur every 20 years, there has not been a serious domestic rebellion in the United States since the Vietnam War; and 45 years of domestic tranquility has not necessarily served us well.

During the Nixon era, the seeds of environmental discontent were sown on fertile ground, took root and began to stifle the producers of basic commodities. For Alaskans, that has meant a proud timber industry has been reduced to the brink of nonexistence, the oil industry's two-million-barrel-a-day pipeline has experienced a 75 percent reduction in throughput and the legacy of mining on federal lands has lost its inspiration.

The four large land management agencies, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service and the U.S, Fish and Wildlife Service, have wandered away from the concept of contributing to the commonweal, and are now cloistered with their internal machinations of planning for the sake of planning and resisting efforts of in-holders and visitors alike to make their livelihoods from the vast untapped federal holdings. This myopia is not unique to Alaska, of course; however, Alaskans have a special claim to the public land.

The Alaska statutory trilogy was designed to recognize that first, our size and remoteness dictated the necessity, embraced in the Statehood Act, that the State would have vast tracts of resource-rich land to develop to support its residents.

Further, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act afforded indigenous people a commercial paradigm for generating cash revenue independent of the public treasury including significant land selections which were frequently made with an eye toward development.

Finally, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act was adopted, in no small part, to ensure that distinguished park areas, refuges, rivers and representative woodlands were afforded unique consideration.

As is always the case, the context of the Alaska trilogy was premised on the status quo at the time these laws were enacted. Sincere pledges were tendered to the people of Alaska and their representatives that the finite parcels set aside for perpetual protection would both accommodate opportunity and not infringe upon the remainder. In hindsight, it appears that those pledges were ephemeral.

The four agencies, aided by progressive socialists in the private sector, commenced upon a pattern of circumscription and ultimate vitiation of resource opportunities. Timber harvest has been virtually litigated and regulated out of existence. Prospective oil and gas basins have been burdened with costs and permitting requirements that eliminate expansion. Mining on privately-owned in-holdings in parks and refuges, on the federal public domain and within the forests has been deterred.

It is time now for the agencies to be brought to heel. Despite their success in manipulating land in their respective organic acts to frustrate resource development in Alaska, it should be clear to all that the Alaska trilogy is a prism through which those organic acts should be viewed. The organic acts are not standalone laws, but elements of a greater, concordant whole.

The rebellion that is playing itself out on the national stage may or may not find an echo in Alaska. The people of the northland will always lack the clout wielded by the lower, more populous states; however, when as now tens of millions of American potential voters are weighing in on the accelerating malfeasance that has characterized the administration of our nation since the 1970s, perhaps there is a faint hope that the tree of liberty will, at last, be refreshed.

 

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