MORRISON: The disappearance of private land

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

By Joyce Morrison (
Illinois Leader

OPINION -- Listed as one of the 10 planks in the Communist Manifesto is "the abolition of private property and the application of all rents of land to public purposes."

As we keep demanding more tax dollars be spent on buying private property for forests, open space and parks, we tend to forget that in the United States it has long been a constitutional right for ‘the people’ to own the land. In Socialist and Communist nations the Government owns the land.

Real estate taxes pay for our schools and local governments. As the tax base decreases, the tax burden increases on the remaining property owners while across the nation, counties and school districts are in deep financial trouble. What will be the solution?

The federal government currently owns 671.8 million acres in the United States while adding more acres daily. 57 percent is used for forest and wildlife, 21 percent for grazing, 14 percent for parks and historic sites and 8 percent is listed as remaining uses. Land trusts and groups such as The Nature Conservancy are gobbling up private land at an alarming rate. They are also buying conservation easements which is worse than buying the property outright.

Gretchen Randall of Winningreen LLC reports the federal government owns about a third of all land in the U.S., most of it in the western states. States with the largest percentage of federal land ownership as of 9/30/03 are: Nevada 91.9%, Wyoming 50.6%, Alaska 66.7%, Arizona 50.2%, Utah 66.5%, Oregon 49.7%, Idaho 66.4%, California 46.9%.

State and local government's landholdings added to federal ownership makes it is easy to see why the tax base to pay for schools and local government keeps shrinking.

Illinois ranks as the 46th state with government-owned lands. Ranked as one of the leading agricultural states in the nation, the largest portion of Illinois remains in privately owned farmland with slightly over 4% of the state in government ownership.

That small percent is about to change, because the Forest Service may begin land acquisition in the Illinois Ozarks to add more acres to the Shawnee National Forest.

Dick Durbin, U.S. Senator from Illinois and member of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, approved spending $850,000 for land acquisition for the Shawnee. The appropriation is for property in Jackson, Union and Alexander counties west of Interstate 57. Funding for the acquisitions will become available following one more Senate hurdle.

Land owners in the area have been contacted by the U.S. Forest Service representatives. The land most desirable to the Forest Service is reported to be adjacent to designated Wilderness Areas and along designated Scenic River Corridors.

Anyone who owns land that borders government land will almost always have an ongoing battle against extended regulations. After a long hassle, property owners wear down and become ‘willing sellers.’

Horse riders and campground owners might be asking why the government needs to buy more land when the Forest Service has already placed restrictions on creek crossings and trail riding in the Shawnee. If the parks are for the public, why are there more restrictions for the public to have access?

Even government employees are saying government land is not being managed and much is neglected. Personnel cuts will leave more government land abandoned. Why does the government want to keep hoarding more property? It is a known fact the private landowner is the best conservationist and caretaker of the land.

While tourism seems to be the promotion for acquisitions and land controls such as Scenic Byways, the Measures for Conservation of Biodiversity and Sustainable Use of its Components, says: "The rapid growth in tourism has produced more infrastructure, increased pollution, put unsustainable demands on local environments and created adverse impacts on biodiversity."

It further states, "Ecotourism can contribute to pressures on biodiversity through serious trail erosion. . ."

It is believed that tourism and grants are the bait. Once officials have taken the bait, the trap will be closed. We will be told the tourists harm the ecosystem or biodiversity and the area will become unsustainable. Like the trails, government areas will be closed to tourists.

Three Arizona Congressmen are backing a House proposal to lower federal spending to buy more land for the federal government.

Congressmen Jeff Flake, (R-AZ), Trent Franks (R-AZ) and John Shadegg (R-AZ) have joined other fiscal conservatives in backing a $121 million cut according to a Winningreen LLC report. The Senate version of the Department of Interior appropriations contains a $215 million increase for land purchase.

Montana, which is 37.5% state- and federally-owned, has decided not to lose more private land. Montanan Clarice Ryan has been diligent in the battle to protect private property and has shared what State Representative Rick Maedge said Republicans are doing to keep having more of their land from slipping into the hands of the Federal Government.

Maedge said, "In the next session, I am offering a bill which will 'ban' the federal government from buying more land by using Federal Constitutional means -- prohibiting any person of the state from selling to the federal government without Local government consent and in accordance with the terms of state law."

"The purpose is to protect the Sovereignty of the state and protect its property tax base."

Maedge continued, "That is the only Constitutional way to stop federal land acquisition in the states -- simply prohibit the sale to the feds -- because one cannot ban the purchase side of the deal."

Other states may find it beneficial to follow Montana's lead.

Do we want our legislators to bring home more pork dollars to buy up more private property or do we choose to remain sovereign?

We have big decisions to make and action to take as our land is slipping away to never again be in the hands of private ownership.

What "‘ism" will we be then?

© 2004 -- all rights reserved

Joyce Morrison lives in southern Illinois. She is a chapter leader for Concerned Women for America and she and her husband, Gary, represent the local Citizens for Private Property Rights. Joyce is Secretary to the Board of Directors of Rural Restoration/ADOPT Mission, a national farm ministry located in Sikeston.
She has become a nationally-recognized advocate for property rights.


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