Locking Up Our Lands

Article excerpt

Though the federal government already owns one-third of all land in the United States, still more landgrabs are being planned through the Conservation and Reinvestment Act.

How do you create a seemingly unstoppable bill in Congress? Step one: Load the bill with tons of juicy pork. Step two: Generously spread the pork, in bipartisan fashion, to as many greedy, noisy, and influential constituencies as possible. Step three: Associate the bill with a noble purpose, such as "saving the children," "safeguarding the elderly," or "protecting the environment." Step four: Hide the bill's true costs and cover up other negatives associated with the legislation.

The bipartisan proponents of H.R. 701, the Conservation and Reinvestment Act (CARA), have followed this formula to perfection. Reintroduced in February by Rep. Don Young (RAlaska) and billed as a wildlife and habitat conservation effort, CARA has amassed an impressive 239 cosponsors, more than the simple majority needed (218) to pass the House. Still, it is not unstoppable. Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.) has withdrawn as a co-sponsor, and others will follow if sufficient numbers of taxpayers, property owners, and other constituents become aware in time of CARA's hidden dangers.

A Massive Landgrab

Opponents have dubbed CARA "The Central Planning/Land Nationalization Act." They call it "a massive government landgrab," and with good reason. The bill calls for spending more than $46 billion over the next 15 years, with over one-third of the funds being earmarked for federal and state acquisition of private property. Another third is designated for 35 coastal states and territories for coastal conservation, fishery management, research, and education. The remainder of the CARA funding is to be spread about to state and local governments for urban parks, recreation facilities, historic preservation, wild-life conservation, and protection of "endangered" species.

In testimony before the House Resources Committee, on June 12, 1999, Karen J. Henry, president of the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation, rightly noted that "the method of resource management advocated in this legislation has been shown to be an utter failure in the Communist Bloc countries."

President Henry went on to state the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) position on the matter:

Experience has shown that an improving environment is dependent upon economic productivity, and that economic productivity is dependent upon private ownership of the means of production. Because we view land as a means of production, we are concerned that over one-third of the land in this nation is owned by the federal government.

Increasing federal land acquisitions and federal land use regulations are inimical to economic productivity and resultant environmental improvements. We oppose further expansion of federal land ownership, and we support a national policy of no net loss of private lands.

"The claim that government ownership of the land protects the environment can be laid to rest just by going out and looking at the poor environmental condition of land managed solely by the government," Henry continued. "Politics drives the management of these lands, not the needs of the resource; so the management is bound to fail, and the nation loses the resource."

This critical assessment of the federal government's mismanagement of existing federal lands is supported by many of the government's own reports. The appalling mismanagement of the national forests is a striking case in point. According to a detailed report issued by the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) in April 1999, entitled Catastrophic Wildfire Threats, "39 million acres on national forests in the interior West are at high risk of catastrophic wildfire" due to Forest Service policies that have fostered unnatural and excessive tree density, massive buildup of undergrowth, disease, and insect infestation. …