An idea for Mr. Trump

Federal land agencies lose billions, but states actually return tax dollars in state trust lands.

“Federal land agencies lose billions of dollars each year managing valuable resources on federal lands.” This conclusion comes from a 2015 report from The Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) in Bozeman, MT, comparing how Arizona, Idaho, Montana and New Mexico manage trust land vs. the federal government’s management of federal lands.

I recently read a copy of this report. It is shocking!

PERC suggests the current federal land system in the West has little or no fiscal responsibility and costs the taxpayers billions of dollars annually. I suspect none of the presidential candidates have a clue about agricultural policy, and they have no comprehension of the waste of taxpayer funds lost by federal land managers in the West.

The PERC report offers amazing conclusions claiming that every dollar spent on state trust land management generates an average $14.51 for each $1 spent. The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Interior, generates only $.73 for every dollar spent on federal land.

What are federal lands and state trust lands?

Federal lands in the West constitute 90% of all federal lands and represent approximately 300 million acres.  (the U.S. is approximately 2.3 billion acres.)  State trust land is a common form of state land use and was created by land grants given by the federal government to western states when each was brought into the Union. The lands consisted of several sections in each township and were given to generate revenue to support schools and other public institutions. State trust lands “…must be managed for the long-term financial benefit of a specific beneficiary.” A beneficiary in a state could be a school, university, hospital or similar public institution. Consequently the trust mandate created an incentive to generate financial returns for the institutions in the state.

There is no such incentive for the federal agencies, and in fact presidential candidates such as Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton are probably not aware that “…federal land agencies lose taxpayers nearly $2 billion per year, on average.”

PERC’s study shows that for a five year period starting in 2009, federal agencies collected over $5 billion dollars in revenue and spent over $7 billion. In the same five-year period, state trust lands in the West generated approximately $240 million with expenses of $16.5 million. Net revenue for the states was more than $223 million; therefore, federal land expenditures are 6 times higher per acre than the states’ expenditures. “Moreover, state trust lands generate ten times more revenue per full-time employee than federal land agencies.”

It is clear the states are able to control their costs and generate substantial sums of dollars to help their citizens. (Does this formula sound familiar from a certain presidential candidate?)

The states studied have 40 million acres of trust lands and earn a profit whereas the two federal agencies have 300 million acres and lost over $2 billion.

Both the federal and the state agencies engage in multiple use of their land. Both lease land for timber harvesting, animal grazing, mineral development, and recreation. The PERC report shows the cost of land management and the comparison is stark. The Forest Service, a part of USDA, over a 5-year period generated approximately $572 million and expended $5.7 billion or $0.10 of revenue for each dollar expended. A comparison in the report shows New Mexico receiving over $554 million in revenue from its state trust lands while having expenses of $13.5 million. This result is $41 to the state for every dollar spent.

PERC  goes on and on with these incredible comparisons although no two states have the same revenues as costs vary per state. It is easy to see the federal land agencies are losing billions of dollars while allegedly managing valuable resources which belong to all American citizens.

This is a fertile area for presidential candidates and particularly Mr. Trump to start managing. In fact, the states have already demonstrated their competencies…the federal agencies have not. This is an easy one to change and help the American taxpayer.


The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Penton Agriculture.

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