The government of Australia recently returned over 400,000 acres of rainforest to the Aboriginal people who have lived in the region for more than 50,000 years. According to a Queensland environmental minister, doing so "recognizes their right to own and manage their country, to protect their culture and to share it with visitors as they become leaders in the tourism industry." The United States government should follow suit.
As a landowner—2.3 billion acres or 28 percent of all land—the federal government is an abject failure. Mismanaged forests lead to devastating wildfires. Obstructionist management policies inhibit reasonable resource extraction. At the same time, government bureaucrats enter into corrupt sweetheart deals with other extractive industries.
We should recognize, as the Australians have, the right of Indigenous people to own and manage what was once their land, to protect their culture as they see fit and to share the bounty of that land with others who wish to trade with them. In short, the federal government should divest itself of all its landholdings—excepting military bases and national parks—and transfer ownership to Native American tribes.
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