Those of us who make our living in the outdoor industry know that balanced land use is the only way for communities around the nation to prosper. There is a time and place for development, conservation, and recreation. This is how Americans gain the most from our public lands.
However, the administration is currently working to promote resource extraction over all other uses on public lands, particularly on Bureau of Land Management lands. Since coming into office, the administration has offered more than 18 million acres of public lands for leasing — an area nearly the size of South Carolina. This directly contradicts the BLM's mandate to manage for multiple use.
As the owner of an outdoor recreation business that relies on access to public lands, I have a particular interest in how our lands are managed. I also know that public lands provide a quality of life that many Americans have come to enjoy, and provide a sustainable economic driver for many communities. I chose to locate my businesses, Why Cycles and Revel Bikes, in Colorado because of the access to public lands and because I feel Colorado is a state that values its public lands. However, federal policies can make it difficult for states and businesses to fully invest in outdoor recreation on public lands.
A particularly egregious example of this is the administration's dramatic increase of non-competitive leasing. Non-competitive leasing allows the BLM to sell any acres left unsold after a competitive auction the very next day on a first-come, first-served basis. This little-known practice allows oil and gas companies to obtain leases on public lands for $1.50/acre, plus a nominal filing fee. No bids or added public process are required.
According to a new report issued on May 23rd by the Center for American Progress (CAP), BLM issued more non-competitive leases than it did in any other year for at least the past decade. Additionally, the number of non-competitive leases issued more than doubled from 2017 to 2018. In Colorado alone, more than 80,000 acres have been leased this way between 2009 and 2018, including over the past two years within important habitat for Greater sage-grouse and big game species.
The practice of non-competitive leasing is not only wasteful, but a huge disservice to American taxpayers. The low potential of many non-competitive leases means that it's often not economically viable for the developer to drill, meaning little revenue makes its way back to taxpayers. According to CAP, a 2016 Congressional Budget Office analysis found that only 3% of noncompetitive leases issued from 1996 to 2003 were developed by the end of their 10-year term. Additionally, CAP found that the BLM has terminated more than 55% (1.6 million acres) of non-competitive leases since January 2009 – because companies simply stopped paying their rent.
By engaging in widespread non-competitive leasing, the administration is hamstringing local communities looking to invest in outdoor recreation as an economic driver. These lands can remain locked in leases, unable to be managed for other uses. All around the country, outdoor recreation is helping communities thrive through attracting visitors and businesses looking to recruit and retain employees. The recreation economy will only continue to grow, but unbalanced policies like non-competitive leasing that lock up land make it harder for communities to be successful.
Over the last few years, the Trump administration's "energy dominance" agenda has received a great deal of attention — and rightfully so. The policies issued under this agenda have placed much of our public land in danger, including areas on the doorstep of Petrified Forest, Canyonlands, Bears Ears, and several other national parks and monuments, as well as important habitat for iconic wildlife species, like mule deer, elk, and sage-grouse. Non-competitive leasing is one more way the administration is not managing our public lands for balanced, multiple use.
For the sake of local economies and future generations who will want to enjoy our public lands, Congress must step in and end the non-competitive leasing program. This program does nothing for the American taxpayer or local communities; it just locks up lands that could potentially be put to other uses and keeps communities from reaching their full outdoor recreation potential.
Adam Miller is the owner of two bicycle companies in Carbondale: Why Cycles, which manufactures high-end titanium bicycles and Revel Bikes, a boutique full-suspension mountain bike manufacturer.