Working on the railroad – all the live long day

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A friend recently said it was time to re-think Abraham Lincoln’s legacy in terms of the environment. What could Lincoln have been thinking – the man who would set free our country’s slaves – giving away a bazillion acres of public lands in the west to the railroads – in the hopes it would foster settlement throughout the land. President Lincoln, who previously represented railroads as an Illinois lawyer, signed the Pacific Railroad Act in 1862 -the first of a series of grants of public land to the private railroad companies. Nearly 150 years later, trying to manage those lands be-devils the best of the best of us.

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Michael C. Blumm, one of my favorite law school professors at Lewis and Clark Law School, has recently co-authored a law review article on the subject of the Nation’s railroad land grants – part of which created what became known as the Oregon and California Lands (the O&C Lands) – and an abbreviated version of that law review article was re-printed in the most recent edition of the Oregon State Bar Bulletin (http://www.osbar.org/publications/bulletin/13jul/forestlands.html )

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The OSB article is a very readable history and education on these lands. Professor Blumm and his co-author also propose some key solutions to fixing the current state of affairs for this important landscape. Five of the six steps towards a sustainable solution are real and tangible flagstones in a pathway to the future. Sadly, the author’s first proposed step is illusory and unproven. By leading off with the highly unlikely and quite unproven strategy of monetizing ecosystem services as the first step towards a lasting future for these contentious lands, it is unlikely that the affected parties in this collaborative effort to forge a management plan for the O&C Lands will even venture towards the pathway at all.

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Don’t get me wrong – I wish that ecosystem services already had viable markets in place. I also hope they find a place in solutions to future management of the O&C Lands. Given the state of play in Oregon’s fiscally broken rural counties, the Republican-controlled Congress and lack of vision in Oregon’s Legislature however, that place cannot be as the first proposed step in what should be a practical pathway to the future.

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Kudo’s to Professor Blumm and Mr. Wigington for a very well written article and for identifying largely solid solutions to this public lands problem 150 years in the making. I think my friend is correct that President Lincoln deserves credit for the initial blunders that led to what is arguably the largest scandal involving America’s public lands. And while we can hold out hope that ecosystem services will eventually be monetized – we should put the other five solutions offered by Professor Blumm and Mr. Wigington to work – today.

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