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COMMISSION TO STUDY AND REPORT ON CONSERVATION
AND ADMINISTRATION OF PUBLIC DOMAIN
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
COMMITTEE ON RULES,
Wednesday, January 15, 1930. The committee met at 10 o'clock a. m., Hon. Bertrand H. Snell (chairman) presiding.
The CHAIRMAN. Mr. Colton, the chairman of the Public Lands Committee, and Mr. Leavitt, chairman of the Committee on Indian Affairs, wish to be heard relative to a bill reported from the Committee on Public Lands, the same being H. R. 6153, authorizing the President to appoint a commission to study and report on the conservation and administration of the public domain.
(A copy of said bill is as follows:)
(H. R. 6153, Seventy-first Congress, second session)
A BILL Authorizing the President to appoint a commission to study and report on the conservation and
administration of the public domain Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the President of the United States be, and he is hereby, authorized to appoint a commission to study and report on the conservation and administration of the public domain, to be composed of not to exceed twenty-five persons, one of whom shall be chairman. The Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture shall be ex officio members thereof, and they shall furnish such information as may be requested by said commission in its investigations. The sum of $50,000, or so much thereof as may be necessary, is hereby authorized to be paid, out of any money in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated, to be immediately available for expenditure, in the discretion of the commission, to pay the necessary expenses of the said commission, including the employment of experts and compensation to individual members of the commission on special assignments, other necessary personal services, and transportation, expenses of travel, or per diem in lieu of subsistence, without regard to the provisions of any other act. That said report shall be sent to Congress by the President, together with any recommendations he may desire to make thereon, not later than the first Monday in December, 1930.
(House Report No. 40, Seventy-first Congress, second session) The Committee on the Public Lands, to whom was referred H. R. 6153, authorizing the President to appoint a commission to study and report on the conservation and administration of the public domain, having considered the same, report it favorably to the House with the recommendation that it do pass with the following amendment:
Page 2, line 10, after the period, insert the following:
“That said report shall be sent to Congress by the President, together with any recommendations he may desire to make thereon, not later than the first Monday in December, 1930."
The necessity for a definite policy regarding the public domain of the United States has been recognized for years. Experts who have made a study of the problem and the Secretary of the Interior and other officials have repeatedly
made recommendation that some legislation should be enacted by Congress. A great many bills have been introduced and considered by the Public Lands Committee. It has been difficult, however, for that committee, without great expense, to accumulate the necessary facts upon which to base legislation.
The public domain of the United States embraces an area in excess of 190,000,000 acres of land. With few exceptions no supervision or control is exercised over this vast area. The overgrazing of these lands has greatly dissipated their value.
In fact in many sections these lands have been almost ruined. The conservation of water is probably the greatest problem now confronting the publicland States. Its solution is dependent almost entirely upon the regulation of the grazing on the watersheds of our streams.
Flood control, the study of subsurface rights, and many other similar problems will no doubt be considered by this commission. The Committee on Public Lands therefore believes that it will be very helpful to have such a commission appointed
A letter signed by the Secretary of the Interior is herein set out in full for the information of the House and explains fully the purpose of this bill.
DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR,
Washington, D. C., December 5, 1929. Hon. Don B. COLTON, Chairman Committee on the Public Lands,
House of Representatives. MY DEAR MR. Colton: In response to your request for report on H. R. 6153 providing for the appointment by the President of a commission to study and report on the conservation and administration of the public domain, I have to advise you as follows:
The purpose of the commission is to study the whole question of the public domain, particularly the unreserved lands and their final disposition. It will also cover the subject of overgrazing of these lands, the conservation of water resources as well as oil, coal, and other problems which arise in connection with the administration of the public domain.
The President's plan is to appoint, under the authority given him in the bill if it becomes a law, a commission composed of representatives from each of the public-land States and a few members without regard to locality who, by reason of their knowledge and interest in public-land questions, would represent the country as a whole. In order to expedite the consideration of the important problems connected with public-land administration, the President has tentatively organized the commission without creating any obligation for the payment of money and with the understanding that he would request such authority from Congress. In his original announcement of the selection of the commission he made the following statement:
"I have recently had opportunity to confer with the chairmen of the Senate and House committees covering public land and irrigation, and they have expressed their warm approval of the creation of this commission and have undertaken to introduce the necessary legislation to provide funds for its work.”
The appropriation provided would not be sufficient to allow the payment of salaries to members of the commission, nor is this necessary. The services of members of the commission will be voluntary and without compensation, except in special instances where it may be necessary for an individual to be employed continuously for a short period by direction of the commission. In such cases it is felt that some compensation should be provided to reimburse the member for the time and energy devoted to the work. The special employment would be on a per diem basis, with a maximum allowance of $25 per day while actually employed, in addition to travel expenses. It may be necessary also to employ temporarily one or more experts to furnish legal or engineering service for a short period at a maximum of $50 a day, and an executive secretary at an appropriate salary for the entire period of the survey for administrative duties. Such other regular employees and clerical assistance as may be necessary would be provided by detail from the Departments of Interior and Agriculture.
Inasmuch as the work of the commission will be of comparatively short duration and the appropriation proposed is limited to $50,000, it is necessary that the employment should not be hampered by ordinary legal restrictions regarding payments for personal services and traveling expenses. Therefore, the provision
n the bill placing the expenditures for these purposes without existing law will expedite the work of the commission and enable it to function more efficiently. It is my understanding that similar provisions have heretofore been included in acts authorizing the appointment of special commissions of this character.
I recommend that the bill receive early and favorable consideration by Congress so that the important work outlined for the commission may go forward without delay. Very truly yours,
Ray LYMAN WILBUR, Secretary. P. S.-I am advised under date of December 6 by the Director of the Budget that the proposed legislation is in accord with the financial program of the President. STATEMENTS OF HON. DON B. COLTON, A REPRESENTATIVE IN
CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF UTAH, AND CHAIRMAN OF THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC LANDS; HON. SCOTT LEAVITT, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF MONTANA, AND CHAIRMAN OF THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON INDIAN AFFAIRS; AND HON. BURTON L. FRENCH, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF IDAHO
Mr. LEAVITT. Mr. Chairman and gentlemen of the committee, Mr. Colton will make the principal presentation of this matter, but as I have to leave to attend a meeting of my own committee in a few moments, I will make the first statement.
This is a bill to authorize an appropriation of $50,000 to meet the expenses of the commission which the President has said should be appointed to consider the whole matter of the disposition of the public lands. This bill is H. R. 6153. The situation prevailing has to do with 160,000,000 acres of undisposed of public lands of the country, located pretty largely in what are known as the public land States of the West. They are very largely unregulated, with the result that in many sections overgrazing and extreme use of various kinds are not only destroying the grazing value of the lands, which, under proper control, would be prevented, but are also interfering with the question of water supply, irrigation, power, and so forth, looking into the future. For a good many years the Public Lands Committee, and various Members of Congress who were principally interested in this subject, have discussed the matter without coming to any definite conclusion as to what should be done. Then the President suggested the appointment of a commission, the personnel of which has already been pretty largely announced. It is made up of 1 representative from each of the 11 public land States of the West, selected at the suggestion of the governors of the States, to make sure that the positions of the various States will be adequately presented. Then there is an equal number of members from the United States at large, among them the former Secretary of the Interior, Mr. Garfield. All that this bill does is to provide $50,000, or to authorize $50,000, to meet the expenses of this commission. The results, or the suggestions of the commission, will be brought in through a report to Congress or the President for final disposition.
The CHAIRMAN. Mr. Leavitt, what data or information do you expect this commission will get that the Public Land Committee does not now have or can not get?
Mr. LEAVITT. It is very likely that the Public Lands Committee of the House has in a general way, or can get, all of the information,
so far as statistical information and general information on the subject are concerned, that the commission could get, but the value of this commission will consist in bringing together the various divergent ideas that exist throughout the United States as a whole, and in the western public-land States especially, so that some policy might possibly be adopted. The public-lands committees of the Senate and House, it must be remembered, have had these problems before them. They have been discussed and bills have been introduced. They have nibbled on it a little bit, but they have never as yet done anything about it. I think that is the best answer that can be made to that question, as to the difficulty of getting anything done, unless the two committees should start in and give their whole time and attention to that problem, as is suggested for this commission. But beyond that, Mr. Chairman, is the fact that the commission has been already appointed, and the country has been given to understand that the study is to be made in this way. I believe that it would be a very great mistake not to provide the necessary funds to carry the study through.
The CHAIRMAN. Do you anticipate that they will form a new national policy with regard to the general handling of the public domain, or what do you anticipate?
Mr. LEAVITT. Of course, the President suggested, roughly, that the public lands might to a great extent be turned over to the States, or the surface rights, retaining the mineral rights, and so forth. That, of course, has nothing to do with the lands in the Indian reservations, the national parks, and the national forests. That is something that should be kept in mind. There was some misunderstanding in regard to that, and it was thought that they would change the forest-conservation policy. This has nothing to do with the national parks, the national forests, or the Indian reservations.
The CHAIRMAN. This has to do with the unallotted public lands.
Mr. LEAVITT. Yes; the unallotted public lands that have been lying for many years subject to the homestead laws, other land laws, and so forth, but which have not as yet been put into use under any of those laws.
Mr. BANKHEAD. How is the Government suffering now beacuse of that situation?
Mr. LEAVITT. It is a Government asset. It belongs to the United States.
Mr. BANKHEAD. The Government is not suffering by reason of having that asset, is it?
Mr. Leavitt. If the gentleman will let me complete my answer, I will say that it is like any other asset, or any other thing of value that belongs to any one that is being depleted. Under the present policy its value is being continually decreased through overgrazing and through erosion, and the question is what ought to be done about it. There is the question of whether it should be given to the States. I will state frankly that there is a great deal of opposition in some of the Western States to taking over the surface rights without the underground rights, while in other States they would be willing enough to take them over and use them as they do the State school lands, using them for the support of education. There is no crystallized opinion, in my judgement, in the Western States as to what the final disposition of these lands ought to be. I think it will be safe to say
the majority of the Western States, up to this time, have not, in fact, favored the suggestions that have been made by the President. Therefore, it is not a matter of appointing a commission for carrying out necessarily what the President proposed in advance as the starting point. He did not propose it necessarily as a solution. That point has been guarded by the appointment of a member of this commission from each State, to be selected by the governor of the State. The appointment would be made by the President, but it would be made entirely on the suggestion of the governor, so that the viewpoint of each State would be definitely presented. Then, the United States as a whole are represented by one-half of the commission, many of the States not having any public-land questions within their boundaries.
Mr. Pou. Just how is the value of the public domain being lessened? I do not exactly grasp that.
Mr. LEAVITT. The lands that are left are very largely grazing lands.
Mr. Pou. Is there any overgrazing? I do not know that I use the right word.
Mr. LEAVITT. That is the right word.
Mr. LEAVITT. Not under any existing law. That is one of the troubles. The land lies there and it is open to use by anybody who gets on it first. As the remainder of the lands are passing to private ownership, under the various public land laws, of course the need of that public grazing land becomes more intense, with the result that for years in some sections there has been overgrazing.
Mr. Pou. Is not the Secretary of the Interior clothed with adequate authority to regulate that?
Mr. LEAVITT. He has no such authority at all over it. The only place where there is any authority to control grazing outside of the national forests is on about 100,000 acres in Montana. I introduced a bill which was passed three or four years ago authorizing the Secretary of the Interior to enter into an agreement with the surrounding stockmen and other owners of land within that area for the regulation of the grazing on this one area. I had word within the last week that that area is now being brought under that supervision. That is the only place where grazing is regulated in that way. That is a sort of laboratory to try out a theory as to how those lands might be handled.
Mr. Pou. If you have that information, would it not be a simpler way to deal with this problem to have the Public Lands Committee report the necessary legislation to prevent that depletion of the value of the domain. You could speedily report a bill preventing overgrazing, could you not?
Mr. LEAVITT. The speed with which such a bill might be reported could be illustrated by the fact that various proposals have been before the Senate and House committees for at least seven years now dealing with that matter. A difference of opinion and judgment on the part of people outside of the public-land States, but who consider this a part of their property, as well as on the part of people in the States who may consider this a part of their especial property, has stood in the way of any final agreement about what might be done. That is because what might apparently apply all right in one section is objected to in some other section. The hope of this com