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DOSTWAR administration of public lands roughly estimated as
representing nearly a quarter-billion dollars' worth of real estate owned by the American people, is the paramount task confronting the General Land Office at the close of the 1945 fiscal year. Taking into account the intangible assets inherent in the 778 million acres of the public domain in the United States and Alaska and the mineral deposits and other resources in the land, this property is an important factor in national economic advancement during the reconversion period. Its continued management under progressive conservation policies for use and development with an eye to the requirements of the future, is essential. In no other way can the domestic demands for maximum beneficial use of the land and resources of the public domain, adequately be met.
Already, the trend of scientific research has pointed the way to new fields of usefulness for the public domain, broadening the scope of activities in the development of resources beneath the surface and expanding the opportunities for utilization of the land itself. The wider horizons for mineral uses revealed by the discovery and development of atomic energy, the steadily mounting requirements for lumber and other forest products to repair the ravages of war, and the growing demands from ex-servicemen for land settlement opportunities serve to illustrate the trend toward more extensive usage in the years immediately ahead.
Obviously, this contribution to future economic advancement cannot help but enhance the value to the American people of their public domain. However, it will also bring a corresponding increase in the responsibilities facing the General Land Office. New methods and new laws must be provided with which to carry out these new tasks which, in effect, mark the beginning of a new era in national land administration.
ESTIMATE OF VALUE
There is a wide range of fluctuation in the evaluation of land. Current conditions and demands can change such calculations overnight. Who, for instance, can predict with accuracy the worth of areas destined to become homes of future settlers in Alaska, or estimate the ultimate monetary value of mineral-bearing lands? Nevertheless, some idea of the value of the public land is essential to the determination of its worth as a national asset of the United States.
It has been conservatively estimated that the public lands of the United States on the continent and in Alaska represent real estate values aggregating $235,000,000, of which $125,000,000 worth is located in the United States. Roughly divided, the assets comprise forest lands and woodlands worth $160,000,000, grazing lands whose value is conservatively placed at $30,000,000, and other lands including barren areas as well as areas devoted to special use, valued at $45,000,000. In addition to this conservative evaluation of the land, technical services rendered by the General Land Office to the public and to agencies of both Federal and State governments constitute other less tangible factors whose value conservatively is estimated to bring the total worth of the people's assets in this real estate to $250,000,000.
Land administration experiences in connection with the prosecution of the war have sharply accentuated the pattern for efficient management of the public domain in time of peace. At the close of the 1945 fiscal year, definite alterations in Federal law and in procedures of the General Land Office were revealed as imperatively needed to bring about that efficiency to which the public is entitled and without which the maximum beneficial use of the national lands and their resources cannot be assured. Some of these needs long had been recognized, but their accomplishment was held in abeyance for the duration of the war. Today, freed from the restrictions arising from the necessity for emergency military action, these problems await solution:
1. Rejuvenation of our Federal mining laws is essential. Mechanized warfare has demonstrated that minerals are indispensable in modern war; under present statutes, no method exists for securing to the United States the utmost advantages from the development of such resources on lands under its control. No real mining conservation, a vital factor in the postwar economy, can be brought about without Federal law granting authority for the United States to supervise the minerals which it owns. Except for statutes governing the development of the fuel and fertilizer minerals in the public lands,
no such authority exists at present. A general leasing system applicable to all minerals would provide the Government with not only the power to conserve but the opportunity to catalog and classify its natural assets to insure their maximum beneficial use during the reconversion period.
2. Legislation is needed to extend the salutary provisions of the present mineral leasing law to lands acquired by the Government, as well as to the original public domain. Specifically, lands acquired by Federal agencies under the National Industrial Recovery Act, the Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act and various relief appropriations and rehabilitation acts, together with the public lands, constitute a veritable storehouse of essential minerals. Without the enactment of new laws, the United States may not catalog and in cooperation with private initiative develop the resources on these acquired lands through leases based on sound principles of conservation.
3. Another element essential to the successful administration of the public domain, both in relation to mineral resource development and the general management of the Federal estate along conservation lines during the postwar period, is complete, authentic information as to the character and status of the land. At the present time, evidence of the filing of thousands of unpatented mining claims is not made a matter of Federal record, but is solely registered in county recording offices. The enactment of legislation to enable the recording of such evidence in the General Land Office is urgently recommended.
4. Similarly, another of the serious handicaps to proper administration of the nation's assets is the lack of any facilities by which detailed information can be secured concerning the real estate holdings of the various branches of the Federal Government. The establishment within the General Land Office of a centralized, consolidated inventory of all such land records is recommended as a solution of this problem.
5. From time to time, areas of the Federal domain bave been withdrawn from general use by the public in order that broader programs of national development might be facilitated. A careful survey of these withdrawals should be undertaken, and a reduction in the size of the areas withdrawn be brought about wherever feasible in the public interest. By this means, portions of the hitherto withdrawn lands may be restored to their public land status and the land and its resources made available for more general utilization in the postwar period.
6. A reexamination of the public lands to discover whether any tracts hitherto overlooked may be suitable for homestead use by veterans or the general public, is suggested as an appropriate part of any program for the maximum beneficial use of the natural resources of the Nation.
7. Similarly, a thoroughgoing study of the statutes and administrative procedures for homesteading on the public domain should be undertaken with a view of extending all possible assistance in the placement of returned veterans upon the land.
8. Greater speed and flexibility in the solution of all factors in the veterans' homestead problem should be facilitated through decentralization of administrative operations made possible by additional legislative authority and funds.
9. Many of the 5,000 public land laws under which administration of the public domain is carried on by the General Land Office were enacted more than a half-century ago, and many others bave reached a stage of obsolescence incompatible with the requirements of efficient management of the nation's real estate assets during the years immediately ahead. A survey of the Federal land laws and a modern streamlining of their provisions should be made as a prime requisite to adequate public land administration.
10. Meantime, maximum use of the public lands and their resources can be enhanced by the enactment of a uniform Federal trespass law which would afford greater protection against the unlawful acquisition and wasteful dissipation of these national assets.
11. War legislation authorizing the disposal by the Government of sand, stone, gravel, vegetation, timber and other forest products on public lands of the United States should be embodied in permanent law, in order that these natural resources may be made available for construction purposes during the postwar period.
12. The development of Alaska through increased land settlement will require the utmost in service and safeguards for the public if economic advancement is to be attained on a permanently stabilized basis. Protection against ill-advised use of the public domain in the Territory, similar to that provided on the mainland through the requirements for classification of land tracts for the best use to which they may be put, would do much to solve this postwar problem. For this reason, the passage of legislation making such classification statutes applicable to the public land in Alaska is urgently recommended.
PLANS FOR THE FUTURE Full benefit from the use of the public land depends, however, upon much more than mere legislative enactments, important though they may be to the proper administration of the people's quarter-billion dollar estate. It depends also upon a program of utilization based upon a carefully-planned integration of the objectives and operations of the General Land Office.
During the war years, the planning units of the Office facilitated the quick servicing of demands for land and resources required for the
prosecution of the military program. For example, more than 16 million acres of the public domain were made available as sites for camps, gunnery ranges, aviation bombing fields, tank training areas, and other combat training uses. In addition, many secret withdrawals of land were made to assist the Army and Navy in carrying on the war, and several millions of acres were placed in a state of reserve to permit the untrammeled development for war purposes of the petroleum and other mineral resources in the areas. At the same time, the activities of trained investigators and cadastral engineers and other experts in land identification, classification and management were centered almost entirely upon war-connected tasks, ranging from the examination of thousands of mining claims to the segregation of areas in Arizona, New Mexico and other States for use in experimentation and in the development of the atomic bomb.
Never before in history had the public lands under the jurisdiction of the General Land Office been called upon to provide such an abundant supply of natural resources for military purposes as in the period of World War II which drew near to a close with the end of the 1945 fiscal year.
Most of this land, like the manpower of the nation which entered the armed forces, is scheduled to return to its former “civilian” status after the need for military use has passed. The orders providing for the “enlistment” of the tracts for service in the war stipulate their eventual return to the public domain. The “discharge processing” and subsequent administration under national conservation of these lands is one of the reconversion tasks confronting the General Land Office in the immediate future.
Land Sehlement Opportunifies
The end of the war has centered the thoughts of many American servicemen and servicewomen upon the prospects for establishing a permanent home upon the public lands of the United States. Visualizing broad opportunities for settlement such as existed in the earlier stages of American history, thousands of members of the armed forces
turned to the General Land Office during the last fiscal year for in
formation and guidance in matters connected with the Federal homestead laws. A special leaflet, dealing in terse, question-and-answer form with the problems of homesteading on land in continental United States, was prepared for the benefit of the men and women in the military service, and distribution of other informational material dealing with the public lands both on the mainland and in Alaska was stepped up in response to popular demand. While prepared to render all possible assistance in the solution of land settlement problems for both military personnel and civilians, attention is called by the General Land Office to the fact that, since homesteading as popularly understood first was set under way by