A recent study by the National Trust for Historic Preservation finds inadequate management at many western monuments and historic sites. Concering the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in Colorado, for example, the Washington Post summarizes as follows:
To keep order amid all this activity, the responsible federal agency, the Bureau of Land Management, employs one ranger to patrol the entire national monument -- an expanse of mountains and lowlands covering 256 square miles, about four times the size of Washington, D.C.
That discrepancy between land area and staff size is common for many of the culturally and historically important sites across the western United States that are managed by the BLM, according to a study due to be issued Tuesday by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
An alternative approach to public ownership and management these lands is privatization: selling the land to private owners.
This approach ensures efficient use of the land areas in question. If the most profitable use is a cultural or historical monument, private owners will choose that option. If the most profitable use is oil and gas exploration, private owners will choose that instead. And if the most profitable use is a scenic area for hikers, private owners will choose that.
A potential compromise is the leasing of minining or timber rights on public lands, as occurs now to some degree. This approach is part of the problem, however; private interests that lease these rights do not have adequate incentive to protect the long-term value of the land.
Privatization does mean that some cultural or historical areas might disappear, and conservationists will decry this outcome. But privatization is still a better approach than current policy, which gives the commerical use of these lands far too little weight. Thus, the amount of land "protected" from development has grown enormously and faces no reasonable balancing. It is time to reverse that situation.