Friday, October 25, 2013

Not your public land but ours

   Closing the federal government had some unexpected consequences. In addition to the very unhappy families who had been planning visits to national parks, Sean Hennessey, spokesman for the National Park Service, reported, “There’s a significant economic impact that our national parks have in their communities.”
    While some were suffering, state officials in Arizona and Utah saw opportunity. Using language crafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), they proposed turning the national parks located there over to the state.
    Its website describes ALEC as a nonpartisan, individual membership organization of state legislators, which favors federalism and conservative public policy solutions. Taking something without paying for it, however, hardly classifies as conservative. Luckily, that was stopped by the lack of money in some states, like Idaho, to run the federal lands.
    There is a consistent drumbeat, especially from Westerners, that the federal land in individual states should belong to the residents of that state. In Idaho, more than half the acreage is under federal management, but this land does not belong to some unknown group or to the government employers who manage those lands. It belongs to the public.
    By definition, every citizen has an equal share. The fact that a national park or any other piece of public land lies within the borders of Idaho, Arizona, Maine, Florida or any other state is irrelevant. The residents of those states have no special claim of ownership that supersedes the claims of the residents of every other state.
    When someone owns a house, the neighbors don’t suddenly get to claim that they should own the house instead. Nor does the government suddenly get to throw out the owners.
    National parks including Yellowstone, Glacier, the Great Smokey Mountains, the Everglades and every other piece of federal land do not belong to the folks who happen to live next door. National parks were established and have been paid for by the whole nation. There has been no national agreement to keep them for the Alton Coal Development company or the state of California or any other state or private entity.
    When parks were shuttered during the recent government shutdown, signs were posted informing people why they were closed. Perhaps the sign-makers should have added the reminder, “Our Park is not for sale. Signed, The American People.”

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