Corridors of Wilderness: How much land should the government own?

By Henry Lamb

Ask your Congressmen these questions:

1. What percentage of the total land area should government ownership not exceed?

2. What percentage of the total land area is now owned by federal, state, and local governments?

Every elected official should be required to declare how much land is enough for government to own.

Our governments - federal, state, and local - have bought into a concept of land use management that violates the principles of freedom enshrined in our Constitution.

This land use management concept is referred to as "Ecosystem Management." It arises from a pseudo-science called "conservation biology," which claims that biological diversity must be restored to, and managed to maintain, the conditions that existed before Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

The magnitude of this concept is very difficult to wrap a brain around. Visualize half the land area in North America as pre-Columbian wilderness, off-limits to humans, connected by "corridors" of wilderness. Most of the remaining land would be owned, or managed by government as "buffer zones," with the vast majority of people living in sustainable communities delineated by "growth boundaries" surrounded by "open space."

Both food and manufactured goods would be provided by "public/private partnerships" that would produce what the government determined to be "sustainable" for use by the urban population.

Through this system, government could protect the environment, balance economic development, and thereby achieve social equity. This is "sustainable development" as described in Agenda 21, and detailed much more completely in the U.N.'s Global Biodiversity Assessment (M).

Federal, state, and local governments already own more than 42 percent of the total land area in the United States. Under the guise of environmental protection, using the Endangered Species Act, wetland policies, heritage and historical designations, national monuments, wildlife refuges, scenic highways and rivers - governments have jurisdiction over virtually all the land in the United States.

Land owned by four federal agencies (in millions of acres)
State/Region National Park Service USDA Forest Service Fish and Wildlife Service Bureau of Land Mgmt. Federal Total
Alaska 50.720 21.969 76.898 86.908 242.796 66.4%
Western 11 19.739 141.089 7.410 175.490 360.562 47.9%
Other 38 6.998 29.000 8.566 1.532 53.898 4.6%
Total 77.457 191.786 92.874 263.929 657.257 28.9%
Editor's note: Please note that this chart does not include federal land owned by the Department of Defense, Post Office, Department of Justice, or any other Department that may own land. ( See complete report)

This vision of land use management is not what our founders had in mind. In fact, the federal government is prohibited from purchasing land other than for purposes enumerated in Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, and then only with the consent of the state legislature. The Supreme Court, however, has found ways to ignore this plain language.

In the last decade, government has made an unprecedented effort to acquire more land. Federal funds for land acquisition have increased dramatically. The Conservation and Reinvestment Act (also called the Condemnation and Relocation Act), proposes $15 billion for land acquisition. Many states have appropriated similar slush funds for land acquisition. Everywhere, there is a mad rush to buy more land for the government.

The Bush administration's 2003 budget proposal seeks to incorporate the objectives of CARA, proposing $100 million in matching funds to organizations such as The Nature Conservancy. The proposal would also provide a 50-percent "exclusion" on capital gains tax to landowners who sell to the government or to qualified environmental organizations.

The proposal also calls for a "Royalties Conservation Fund," to receive royalties from energy production - precisely the objective of CARA. Ironically, these proposals are described as "...another example of a cost-effective, non-regulatory, market-based approach to conservation." In reality, these proposals are examples of government using its taxing power to coerce people into selling their land to government by interfering with the free market.

No one in government has yet suggested how much land might be enough for the government to own. Since the land is paid for with tax dollars, free market price constraints are absent. The government is gobbling up private property, and sellers are often eager to accept top dollar.

When government owns the land, it can manage the land any way it wishes. Government will decide what crops to grow, and which products to manufacture on its land, and invite selected "private" parties to enter into partnership arrangements to provide the labor.

State Representative Brad Johnson has introduced H.B. 208 in the Utah Legislature, which would require state legislative approval for the purchase of land within the state by the federal government for any purpose other than those enumerated in the U.S. Constitution.

Opposition to his bill is strident, and profuse, even though the federal government already owns 63 percent of the state's land.

There have been many unsuccessful efforts in the past to limit government land acquisition, and force the federal government to divest its land holdings. Environmental organizations, though, have increased pressure on the government to accelerate its land acquisition program by appealing for "open space" and using "species extinction" scare propaganda.

America's founders realized that land is the source of wealth, and drafted the Constitution to ensure that the land would remain in the hands of the people. The poorest people on the planet are landless, and most live where government owns the land, or controls it use.

There is no justification for the federal government to own land beyond that authorized by the Constitution. The private sector, and locally elected officials, can provide all the protection and prosperity the people desire.

This gluttonous acquisition of land by government is clear evidence of the growing influence of socialist philosophy in America. Without the land, the people become no more than tenants, subject to the whims of the ruling party.

The vision of a pristine, pre-Columbian America is trumping the vision of our founders, of a nation where free people could be free forever, assured of the right to prosper from the use of their own property.

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