Friday, January 27, 2017

The Big Freeze: What Trump's Hiring Suspension Means for Public Lands - Full Article

By Ben Radding

Widespread hiring freezes hit most federal agencies on Monday (excepting the military). The stated goal of the order is to "reduce the size of the Federal Government's workforce through attrition." In other words? It may be here to stay.

For the Department of Interior, which oversees most public lands, this likely means there will be no new employees to aid in the $12.5 billion maintenance backlog that Ryan Zinke said he'd make a priority when he took control. And while National Parks have never been more popular (with some 300 million visitors in 2015), resources allocated for conservation and land management are at record lows — meaning the new hiring freeze could have the unintended consequences when it comes to camping and hiking, mountain-biking, and paddling on public lands. Even hunting and fishing may be affected.

"There's a sense that government is bloated and inefficient, and we can save money and reduce government interference on everyday Americans' lives," says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. "Now, there may be bloated agencies out there, but if you look at conservation funding in this country, the exact opposite is true. In the late '70s, conservation funding was about 2.5 percent of the federal budget, and today it’s about 1 percent."

Will Rogers, president and CEO of the Trust for Public Lands agrees: "Congress has not stepped up with what I would say are the expectations of the public when it comes to maintaining and taking care of our public lands. So that’s where we’re starting. A hiring freeze is only going to make it worse."

Our 500 million-plus acres of public lands, about one-fifth of the landmass of the United States, are managed by federal employees and contractors who manage grazing permits, trail maintenance, recreational visitation, oil and gas permits, fire suppression, timber issues, road building, and wilderness management, among many, many other tasks. The Bureau of Land Management, a department inside the DOI, is itself in charge of roughly 300 million acres. It has about 30,000 employees. That's around 50 square miles to manage per employee...

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