TBT: Multiple Use

Published: 
Thursday, March 31, 2016
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Throwback Thursday: From the Vault


"Never walk when you can ride." Tim Fitzgerald

Outdoor recreation contributes to the quality of life enjoyed by many western communities. The West’s abundance of public lands provide many opportunities for hiking, biking, boating, hunting, and many more recreational activities. As the population grows and demands more access for recreation, public land managers are faced with the difficult task of balancing recreation with other traditional land uses, such as grazing and mining.

In 2003, Tim Fitzgerald observed how Colorado’s public lands are home to multiple uses, ranging from cattle grazing to oil production to recreation:

Multiple use was once the guiding principle behind public lands management. The idea was that many uses could be balanced across many acres. America was a place for all walks of life – cowboys and fishermen, loggers and miners, family vacationers and wildlife.  

Multiple use is no longer in vogue. It is seen as a sellout to commodity interests. Commodity production industries like ranching, mining, and logging have gotten a bad name over the years for their record on public land – probably deservedly. It takes only a few malfeasants to give an entire group a bad name.

Today public land managers try to balance commodity production with complex and sometimes nebulous issues like biodiversity and ecosystem health. Each year there are greater demands placed on public land. One of the fastest-growing demands is for recreation.

There is currently much debate over how to enhance recreation in the west while still providing multiple uses on public lands. Recreationists fight for priority use in land management planning, legally challenge land agencies’ decisions that harm recreation, and lobby politicians to pass recreation-friendly legislation. Some groups even push to transfer federal lands to state control, arguing that states would do a better job of managing recreation and multiple uses than the federal government.

PERC has long been involved in questions of multiple use management on public lands. Last year, we released “Divided Lands: State vs. Federal Management in the West.” The report examines the revenues and expenditures associated with federal land management and compares them with state trust land management in four western states.

This month, we’re looking even deeper into issues of recreation management on public lands in the upcoming report “Access Divided: State vs. Federal Recreation Management in the West.” This report explores how western state and federal land agencies respond to demands for recreational access and how effective those responses are at resolving competing demands for recreational activities. Keep a lookout for this new public lands report on the PERC website and in print!

To learn more about Tim Fitzgerald’s horseback ride through Colorado’s Sopris Ranger District, read “Squeezing Multiple Use” here.

Hannah Downey is the policy and partnerships coordinator and a research fellow at PERC, helping to move projects along from conception to completion. After being introduced to PERC her freshman year of college, she pursued the ideas of free market environmentalism and became a research assistant as a senior. She graduated from Montana State...
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