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Why Add More Public Acreage to Overstretched Budgets?

by Holly Fretwell

Similar to other states and the federal government, Montana has been increasing its acreage of ownership. The Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks has acquired 232,000 acres over the past six years.

This sounds fine and dandy. I like to fish and hike and my husband hunts. We use the public lands that surround us a lot. The idea of better access for recreation is appealing to many voters. It seems that Montana’s governor, Brian Schweitzer, is playing this as a political card. My thought is reconfirmed with his statement that “this administration will best be remembered for finding new opportunities for families to hunt, camp and fish.”

Unfortunately, the governor is ignoring the maintenance needs. One division administrator recently stated that the division is in a “terrible fiscal situation.” It has been said that these lands may have to be “mothballed” for a while until budgets are sufficient. But the division can’t even account for actual maintenance expenditures and needs. Does it really make sense to add acreage to an already overstretched budget? Here’s a thought on that subject:

If more public land is what the public wants, then the public land users should pay for use and maintenance through fees. This way individuals who desire additional access realize the costs and can make a fair judgment as to how much is enough. Such user fees can help keep the benefits and costs in check.

Originally posted at Environmental Trends.