06.30.2010 0

Taking What is Not Yours

  • On: 07/23/2010 10:37:23
  • In: Property Rights
  • By Rebekah Rast

    The federal government has an insatiable spending appetite. Most Americans already know that. But it appears to have an insatiable land-grabbing appetite as well.

    “The Obama Administration has a lot of ideas when it comes to deciding what to do with other people’s private property,” says Bill Wilson, president of Americans for Limited Government (ALG).

    Don’t be fooled by Obama’s plan for America’s Great Outdoors Initiative. The claims are more land is in need of protection and more American’s should have the benefit of seeing the great outdoors in their natural state, but the government already owns 1 out of every 3 acres in the U.S. — 1 out of every 2 acres in the West, says Congressman Rob Bishop (R-UT), a member on the Natural Resources Committee and ranking member on the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands.

    There is no end in sight to how much more land this current Administration seems to want. Claiming the need to create ecosystems throughout America, the National Park Service (NPS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service hope to extend their political boundaries and expand to privately owned land.

    These organizations need the help of the Department of Interior, which ironically enough, is the only federal government department that holds the power of eminent domain.

    Never mind that the 5th amendment in the Constitution of the United States reads, “No person shall be… deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” Instead, the government is working to a different end, hoping to circumvent Congress and put to practice the Antiquities Act and Endangered Species Act to complete its mission.

    With the federal government already owning about one-third of the land in the U.S., where is the money coming from to take care of these lands?

    The truth is, there isn’t enough money flowing out of the Department of Interior to support the budgets needed for the BLM or NPS.

    “In order to keep up existing parks it would take billions of dollars we don’t have,” says Richard Pombo, former Chairman on the House Committee on Natural Resources.

    The NPS claims it would need about $9.5 billion just to clear its backlog of the necessary improvements and repairs. At a time when our existing national parks are suffering, it doesn’t make sense for the federal government to grab new lands. How does the government expect to fund any of its new acquisitions?

    On July 15, 2010, the Consolidated Land, Energy and Aquatic Resources Act (CLEAR Act) of 2009, passed in the Natural Resources Committee. This legislation, which was to deal with the oil spill crisis in the Gulf of Mexico, contains plans for the federal government to acquire more land.

    In a speech on the House floor after the bill passed in Committee, Congressman Louie Gohmert (R-TX) pointed out that a provision tucked inside the CLEAR Act allows the federal government to spend $900 million a year to purchase private land over the next 30 years.

    “This is a new way to fund the Department of Interior and satisfy its need for more land,” says Congressman Bishop. He also points out that none of this money would go to maintaining the land the government already owns, but only would provide funding for the acquisition of “treasured lands.”

    As if restricting use on about 30 percent of the total land mass in the U.S. wasn’t enough, about 108 million acres owned by the government are labeled wilderness areas. Former Congressman Pombo explains that inside a wilderness area, no motorized activity is allowed. While some restricted federal lands might let you go four-wheeling or snowmobiling, wilderness areas do not.

    This poses a problem because state economies aren’t able to prosper off the federally owned land contained in their own state by ways of real estate, mining natural resources, or even for building schools. Instead, they are told by the government that they will reap the benefits of tourism, former Congressman Pombo says. But when the area is so restricted that certain recreational activities aren’t permitted, tourism to these lands takes a hit and so does the economy of the state.

    “When the federal government owns the land, we can’t fund schools or pay teachers — people don’t have jobs — people in Washington, D.C., don’t have to live in those conditions. They don’t understand the consequences,” says Rep. Bishop because most of the land grabbing is in the Western part of the U.S.

    Former Congressman Pombo echoes those concerns. “The Eastern states don’t understand, people in the West do,” he says. “The government owns about half of California, people don’t know that.”

    And yet that’s still not enough for the government. And who can stop it?

    Chuck Cushman, executive director of the American Land Rights Association located in Washington State, has dedicated his life to stopping federal land grabs.

    “Our job is to protect private property and private land from being taken over by the government,” says Cushman.

    Cushman got his start 35 years ago when the NPS tried to take his house, which was near Yosemite National Park. “We stopped them and we formed an organization.”

    He has had many successes over the years. His organization has helped individuals, communities and other organizations fight against their private lands being taken by the government in states like Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana. “We help people locally. We teach them how to fight back.

    “Most local groups confuse emotion with action,” he goes on to say. “Most groups understand the problem but not the solution. We show them the solution.”

    Cushman says the solution is people — activists. “People need to get lists together and get them motivated to take action.” Cushman has a rolodex of several million names. That is his best weapon against government land grabs — and it has worked well for him.

    It is a continuing battle that isn’t letting up. Cushman understands his rights as a property owner and doesn’t buy into the government’s agenda of roping off more land to create ecosystems.

    “This Administration has largely ceded control of the environment to environmental groups,” Cushman says. “The enemy is the landowner and people who use land for agriculture, mining and recreation.”

    Pombo agrees and goes on to say, “They are appeasing their political supporters. That’s all it is. They have gone so far as to making public lands off limits.”

    Despite consequences of destroyed local economies, higher unemployment, over population of breeds and lack of money for upkeep, the federal government is hell bent on restoring heavily rich land to unusable ecosystems.

    “It is a silly idea that land has to be wild and free,” says Rep. Bishop.

    ALG’s Wilson concurs and adds, “The idea of returning land back to its original state before people walked the earth is simply an attack on humanity. The government already has control of more land than it can take care of. Enough is enough.”

    Throughout America’s history, citizens of this country have fought for what is theirs. If the government thinks it can take more of what constitutionally belongs to its people, it won’t happen without a fight. How wrong and corrupt a government must be that it would seize the private property of its citizens and cordon it off to serve no further purpose.

    Rebekah Rast is the national correspondent of the Americans for Limited Government (ALG) News Bureau.

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