Private Land Lockup: Rural Washington faces another onslaught

Federal and state agencies are, in essence, pulling the land right out from under the feet of private property owners as part of the United Nations’ radical Wildlands Project.

from The New American

5/15/02 - Federal and state agencies are, in essence, pulling the land right out from under the feet of private property owners as part of the United Nations’ radical Wildlands Project.

May 20, 2002 issue of the New American

by William Norman Grigg (920) 749-3784 - Phone (920) 749-3785 - Fax

One moment they were responsible, law-abiding owners of forestland in rural Washington; the next, they were eco-criminals confronting onerous fines and eviction from land they thought they owned. What had they done? Nothing — and that was the problem, according to notification letters sent by the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

The DNR notices sent last December informed owners of forestland tracts larger than 500 acres that they were required to submit a Road Maintenance and Abandonment Plan (RMAP) for all "forest roads" on their land (including driveways). The new law, explained the April 22nd Seattle Times, requires "the state’s 91,000 small-forest owners to map, and in many cases, upgrade private roads to save fish. Estimated cost: $375 million."

To facilitate "recovery" of salmon, steelhead, and bull trout, Washington state devised a set of road maintenance rules "designed to repair fish-blocking culverts and stem runoff from forest roads that load waterways with sediment that smothers fish eggs, raises water temperature and alters stream courses," reported the Seattle Times. According to Pat McElroy, director of regulatory programs for the DNR, "The roads issue is very, very important to meeting our obligations, and fundamental to improving salmon habitat and moving recovery forward." But as is so often the case, recovery of endangered nonhuman species in Washington threatens to make human property rights extinct, and key decisions have been made without input from the endangered property owners.

The RMAP rules are part of the Washington State Forest and Fish agreement, finalized in April 1999, intended to bring the state into compliance with the federal Endangered Species Act. Although RMAP initially targets owners of large tracts of forestland, by 2004 it will encompass landowners possessing as little as two acres of land capable of supporting forest. The measure’s ostensible purpose is to abate sediment runoff that supposedly makes streams and rivers unsuitable for endangered salmon and trout. To that end, owners of forestland or "forest-capable" land are required to provide, by 2005, detailed plans to bring their access roads — including private driveways — into compliance with federally mandated state environmental standards.

The estimated cost of mapping, surveying, and upgrading the roads runs into tens of thousands of dollars per property owner. RMAP provisions dictate that owners wishing to sell their forestlands must inform potential buyers — through the Department of Natural Resources — of the "continuing obligation" to upgrade the roads. This effectively makes the DNR a joint owner of privately owned lands. Should a property owner fail to follow this procedure in selling his forestland, he would face a summary civil judgment requiring him to pay the estimated cost of the upgrades. RMAP does offer one other alternative: After conducting mapping and surveys at their own expense, owners of forestlands can choose to abandon their access roads.

"Those are our only choices under RMAP," Okanogan County Farm Bureau President Joel Kretz told The New American. "We can somehow pay the expense to bring the roads up to standards, or we can physically block them off and never use them again." In addition, Kretz continued, RMAP "essentially provides a continuing conservation easement on your land — forever. It requires that you grant open-ended access to your land to multiple parties, such as environmental enforcement agencies, various Indian tribes, and so on. People who thought that they owned their forestlands now find that they have been relegated to co-manager status over that land with practically every agency under the sun. Quite simply, what has happened is that tens of thousands of people across this state suddenly discovered that, according to our state government, they don’t own their own land."

Okanogan County resident Kathy Power teaches a continuing education program on real estate law. She declares that the Endangered Species Act (ESA), of which the RMAP measure is an outgrowth, is "one of the most fascist laws this country has ever seen." Addressing an audience of 1,000 people at a March 26th town meeting in Tonasket, Powers noted that RMAP claims to regulate "public resources on private lands" — a description that harmonizes with the fascist concept of government control of nominally private property.

"I’m not about to be run out of town by a fascist law with no constitutional basis!" Powers declared to the applause of her audience. Seeking to channel her neighbors’ outrage into constructive activism, Powers stated: "We have to remember [that] to win we must do it peacefully. We will never be able to change this law if the National Guard comes in and shuts us down."


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