By FRITZ PETTYJOHN
Alaska is fortunate in having Sarah Palin running for Congress. Because she has had a long and close association with Donald Trump, she has his enthusiastic support. She’s in an ideal position to get him to reconsider his opposition to the transfer of federal lands to the state.
Sixty-one percent of Alaska is owned by the federal government. Other states of the mountain west, such as Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming have similarly large portions of their lands under federal ownership. There is no justification for this absentee land ownership. It’s an antiquated residue of the situation which prevailed at the time they were admitted to the union. Nevada, for instance, was admitted in 1864 when it had less than 40,000 people. At the time, it made sense to keep 90% of the state under federal control. It doesn’t make sense anymore.
Because of decades of federal mismanagement, the west suffers from repeated catastrophic wildfires. Forest lands under state ownership are, by and large, properly managed, and wildfires are contained. Forests under state management are revenue producers. In contrast the federal government spends vastly more than it receives in revenue. The Property and Environment Research Center, (PERC) of Bozeman, Montana, has studied this issue in depth, and has volumes of research supporting the transfer of federal lands.
PERC’s data shows that under state ownership, resource development of all kinds can provide revenue, jobs, and vitally needed commodities such as oil and minerals, including rare earth minerals. The federal government is not a wise resource manager. It is subject to political pressure from the rabid environmentalists who oppose responsible resource development. Because it is their land, Alaskans can be trusted to manage it properly.
When he was running for President in 2016, Trump gave an interview with Field and Stream magazine, and he addressed this issue. When asked about the transfer of federal lands to the states, he said, “I don’t like the idea because I want to keep the lands great, and you don’t know what the state is going to do.”
This is the position of Safari Club International, a group of wealthy trophy hunters. They fear that under state ownership, residents would be given a preference in the taking of fish and game. As non-residents, their access could be restricted, so they lobby against any transfer to the states. Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr. is an active member of the Safari Club and was the keynote speaker at its 2020 convention. He has convinced his father to take the Safari Club’s side against the states.
Former President Trump seems to be making plans to run again in 2024. If he does, he needs to reconsider his position on this issue. Sarah Palin is perfectly positioned to make the case to him on behalf of the state of Alaska. If she is able to succeed, she would be doing him a favor.
Trump’s position against the transfer was politically costly in 2016. His principal opponent, Ted Cruz, came out strongly in favor of returning these lands to the people who live on and around them. As a direct result, he was able to win the primaries and caucuses of northern Nevada, Alaska, Idaho, Wyoming and Utah. In 2024 Trump would be opposed by others seeking the Republican nomination. Following the Ted Cruz playbook, they will certainly also support the transfer of federal lands. Trump should do likewise. It’s in his own political self-interest.
Trump has promised to visit Alaska to support Palin’s candidacy. If he does, it will be a perfect opportunity for Alaskans to try to persuade him that they can be trusted with their land.
Fritz Pettyjohn worked for the Ted Cruz for President Committee in 2016, and promoted his candidacy in Alaska.