Burt’s Bees and Bureaucracies

May 23, 2016
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The Washington Post discusses an effort by a Maine philanthropist to donate 88,000 acres of land to the National Park Service (NPS). Showing good sense, Mainers are pushing back against the idea:

“How many times do we have to say, ‘No, it’s not what we want for the area?’ ” Millinocket resident Lorri Haskell said, noting that residents in towns near the proposed park voted against its creation, that the governor and legislature are opposed and that Maine’s congressional delegation refuses to introduce the measure necessary to create a national park.

 

That leaves only the prospect of President Obama using his authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to declare the land a national monument — something he has done nearly two dozen times while in office.

 

“It has nothing to do with us anymore,” Haskell said as she sat at her kitchen table. “It has to do with whether President Obama is going to betray us. Is this how democracy works?”

The land was assembled by Roxanne Quimby, co-founder of Burt’s Bees. She and her son have lobbied for a decade to give it to the NPS. But their effort “has bitterly divided this corner of New England… where distrust of the federal government runs as deep as the rivers and streams.”

Why would Quimby want to give her land to the mismanaged, gridlocked, and polarized federal government? Why not preserve it within a private, nonprofit environmental organization? Why not give it to the state government?

Skeptical Mainers fear that once the Feds have the land, they will curtail access to it and move decisionmaking to faraway Washington. As discussed on DownsizingGovernment.org, centralizing control over assets and activities does not solve problems, it creates them. Whether it is land, water, education, housing, or transportation, federal control creates more bureaucracy, more regulation, less certain funding, and less democracy.

Quimby must have a romantic and unrealistic vision of the NPS, because the actual agency is likely to mismanage her land and run it down over time. The NPS operates more than 400 parks, monuments, and historic sites. The total acreage of NPS holdings has quadrupled from 20 million in 1940 to 85 million today. That is far too large an inventory to manage efficiently, and many NPS sites suffer from deterioration. About 60 percent of 27,000 NPS historic structures need repairs. The NPS and other Department of Interior agencies have accumulated more than $14 billion in deferred maintenance.

America does not need more national parks. The NPS can’t maintain what it already has. Human bureaucracies are not like efficient bee colonies. Mainers would be better off keeping control of their land within Maine.

For more on NPS, see here.

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