To compensate the western states for revenues lost to the federal government by its ownership of over 440 million acres In 2014, it paid $2.695 billion to the Far West’s eleven states, which included Utah. Yet, a century-long heated debate still rages about the federal government’s ownership of almost half of the land in those states. Scholars involved in Stanford University’s Follow the Money Spatial History project say: “some regard the spaces as sites for individual opportunity, others as resources to be conserved for wise use, still others as ecologies that must be preserved for aesthetic or recreational pleasure. Many westerners resent the vast federal presence…. Others view federal stewardship as a bulwark against rapaciousness.” Joseph Taylor, one of those scholars, will speak on this issue, at BYU on Thursday October 12th. In particular, he will speak on “mapping transfer payments and unlearning wisdom about the federal domain in the American West.” His lecture will take place from 11 a.m. to noon on the 12th in B192 JFSB.
Why is it Important to Understand This Issue?
Since the 1890’s, when the government began reserving land, western residents have voiced concerns regarding tax bases and development retraction. As these federal lands are tax exempt, state residents lose revenue. The in-lieu payments serve to supplement the local economies. “Few Americans are aware of these revenue-sharing programs, and fewer still understand why they exist,” says Dr. Taylor, of Simon Fraser University. “Almost no one knows their history and geography because they operate largely outside the consciousness of residents and politicians, yet the political economy of federal lands has always been a central concern of conservation policy.”
Some citizens are urging for the government to cede the land back to the states. According to Dr. Taylor and his colleagues, “These debates can seem irreconcilable because they are. One group imagines a neo-liberal world in which privatization and the market liberates the West from the shackles of imperious federal overlords; another group sees nature and the public interest imperiled by short-term greed. Both tend to eclipse important common ground across the West…The inimical visions of the debate’s dominant voices have something else in common as well: an inability to see how political economy has welded together federal, state, and local governments through a set of laws that distribute revenues to sustain the ecological and social services westerners rely on every day.”
Hosted by the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies, the event aims to “increase public understanding and dialog about public lands issues in the modern West,” said the center’s director, Dr. Brenden Rensink. He adds: “There are essential elements of the current administration of public lands that are missing from current political debates about them.”
The event will be held on Thursday, October 12 in B192 of the JFSB from 11-12.
Featured image by Andrew Maranta on Unsplash