06.11.2010 0

America’s Land Grab

By Rebekah Rast –

Do you remember the folksy song “This Land is Your Land”?

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.

Well, if you head west you will quickly realize that much of the land is not yours — it’s theirs — the federal government’s.

In fact, the federal government owns almost 650 million acres of land in the U.S. That’s about 30 percent of all the land area in the nation and includes national parks, forests and wildlife refuges.

This federal government land grabbing can have negative impacts on job markets, economic development and tax revenues for those states.

“The federal government has more control over the economy of states than elected governors and legislatures do,” says Don Todd, senior research director at Americans for Limited Government (ALG). “The feds decide where you can fish and harvest.”

A state that knows this all too well is Utah. More than 60 percent of Utah is owned by the federal government and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and other policy makers say it creates problems for the state, and they want their land back.

In late May 2010, Gov. Herbert authorized the use of eminent domain to take some of their land back from the federal government. He is hoping to spur the rest of the western states to do the same thing.

By the federal government claiming ownership of their land, it restricts economic development for those resource-rich states. Because these states are not allowed to benefit from economic development on these federal-government protected lands, it greatly limits their overall economic growth.

Though the state of Utah might not win its battle against the federal government, lawmakers there believe what they are doing is necessary and that the government should keep its hands off their land.

But that likely won’t happen. In a memo leaked to a Utah Congressman from the Department of Interior, the Administration has a wish list of more land it would like to takeover — and yes, on that list is much more land from the western states.

Some of these land grabs, which the Administration hopes to make into monuments — meaning they will have to remain untouched by the state, exceed the size of the states of Rhode Island and Delaware combined. What’s worse, the Administration can make this decision on its own, without state or congressional approval. How? The Antiquities Act of 1906. This law gives presidents the right to designate any area of land that presents historic or scientific significance as federally owned land.

Though it is likely the Administration will only choose two to three out of the 14 eligible areas highlighted in the memo to designate as monuments, it will still greatly impact these states giving them less land to develop and grow.

Much of the decision-making comes down to who knows who. In the case of Nevada — where more than 80 percent of the state is owned by the federal government — Sen. Harry Reid gets exactly what he wants out of this Administration, on or off federally owned land.

Despite Nevada residents suffering from a 13.7 percent unemployment rate, Sen. Reid still found it favorable to the state to block a pit mining operation on federally owned land, which was intended for such a project. This mine would have provided millions of tons of sand and rock throughout the next 20 years to be used by companies for cement and other purposes.

In an article in the Las Vegas Review Journal, Sen. Reid is quoted as saying, “The potential negative impacts of the proposed operation far outweigh any benefit the mine may provide. This legislation makes sure that the proposed gravel operations at Sloan Hills will not go forward.”

Way to hurt the very industry Nevada was founded upon, not to mention possibly putting more residents of the state out of work.

Money was lost and hundreds of jobs that could have boosted Nevada’s economy are now gone. When will Nevadans wake up and realize what is being done to their state — especially by those who are supposed to have the state’s best interests in mind?

“It is difficult to measure jobs that have disappeared as a result of federal land grabs and political favors because you don’t see them. Nevada is a good example,” says Todd. “It’s a tragedy that people don’t see.”

Other states are suffering as a result of federal land ownership.

Just look at what has happened to the logging industry in Washington State. It’s virtually gone. Because of protected forestry laws, small towns that survived off of the logging industry were choked out. Sawmills are shuttered, and timber men are unemployed. Formerly thriving areas have essentially become ghost towns.

“The forest service holds life or death over the timber industry,” Todd says. “They have leases that decide where to sell timber or whether or not a road can be built to get the timber out.”

Federal land grabs, political favors, regulators and laws restricting use are causing a slow death for the very industries that created America and made her what she is today.

The state of Utah is taking action to protect itself from the consequences of being choked by the federal government. Until other states do the same, the federal government will continue to pick away at America’s land and long-established industries.

Rebekah Rast is a contributing editor to ALG News Bureau.

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