San Bernardino County First District Supervisor Robert A. Lovingood testified in front of a Congressional Subcommittee on April 15 on the impact of federal land acquisitions have on the people, jobs and economy of the County.
“More than 80 percent of our land mass is owned and administered by the Federal Government,” Lovingood told the House Subcommittee on Federal Lands Oversight. “Federal holdings keep expanding, and that expansion has impacts on our residents, economy and local government.”
In the past 15 years, San Bernardino County has lost nearly 1 million acres, including 585,000 private acres to BLM acquisition and 204,000 private acres to National Park Service acquisitions.
The Army has acquired an estimated 130,000 acres to compensate for the expansion of Fort Irwin.
As more land goes under federal control, it falls off County tax rolls, resulting in lost tax revenues to local government, Lovingood said. As federal lands expanded by about 1,500 square miles in the past 15 years, it has reduced local tax rolls by $15 million to $20 million.
The Supervisor noted that federal land acquisitions reduce lands for exploration and mining operations. And a backlog of federal mine permits means about 100 local mining jobs are on hold.
Each core mining job typically results in another four or so support jobs, so the total impact is estimated at 500 jobs. The average mining job pays nearly $86,000 a year.
With the designation of critical habitat for the desert tortoise in 1994, recovery plans focused on buying up private lands. Of seven critical habitat areas in California, six lie entirely or partly in San Bernardino County. The 1994 Desert Protection Act captured 11,875 square miles of desert lands.
New solar projects spurred by federal law and executive orders effectively created another land rush to meet land mitigation requirements, Lovingood told the Congressional Subcommittee. For example, one solar plant required 12 square miles for mitigation. In some cases, mitigation ratios are 3-to-1 or even 5-to-1. This land comes off the tax rolls and forever eliminates the potential for future economic activity.
“The more public land that is closed to the public and multiple uses, the more our economy is harmed,” Lovingood said.
Lovingood also testified that that federal acquisitions have resulted in unfunded federal mandates and hindered multiple-use access to thousands of square miles of public lands. And in some instances, the federal government takes over lands but does not take responsibility for maintaining public roads within those lands.
The Supervisor outlined four recommendations:
• Minimize further federal land acquisitions.
• Require proposed federal land acquisitions to receive prior agreement from the local government entity.
• Require the federal government to pay the equivalent of the previous year’s property tax for acquired lands.
• Minimize acquisition of private land for mitigation.
• “Our ultimate goal is to strike a balance between economic growth and protection of our natural resources,” Lovingood said. “Endless expansion of federal land holdings does not foster that goal.”