Opinion: Awash In Neglected Lands, Senate Goes For More

U.S. Senate votes to earmark $1.4 billion for more federal land purchases. Landowner groups push for citizen action on the measure in the U.S. House.

Joe Roybal 1

March 22, 2012

3 Min Read
Opinion: Awash In Neglected Lands, Senate Goes For More

Federal and state governments control 90% of Alaska, 80% of Nevada, 70% of Utah, 65% of Idaho and 55% of Wyoming and Arizona. And that doesn’t even include military or tribal land, nor water areas, leases or easements. In fact, the federal government is by far the largest landowner in the U.S.

Today’s budgetary challenges have forced dramatic reductions in management budgets for public lands. If anything, in order to lessen government’s burden – and raise revenue – state and federal governments should consider divesting some of these holdings to private citizens.

The revenue would help offset the deficit, while these lands would likely become more productive in private hands, generating even more revenue – via taxes and increased economic activity –for cash-strapped governments.

I’m not proposing we put Mt. Rushmore on the block, or solicit sealed bids on Old Faithful, but does government really need to own one of about every three or four acres in the U.S.?

Puzzlingly, however, the U.S. Senate this week approved by a vote of 76-22 a $109-billlion measure that provides two years of funding for transportation and transit projects around the country. Within that legislation is an amendment by Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) to provide $1.4 billion to fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) for fiscal years 2013 and 2014. And in these cash-strapped times, that’s a significant jump from the $323 million allocated for the program in FY 2012.

Interestingly, in this time of short budgets and tall deficits, the purpose of LWCF is to help purchase and protect lands across the country. Evidently the Senate thinks more U.S. lands are in need of the federal government’s “wise” stewardship.

At this point, it isn’t known whether the bill will be taken up by the House, but the Senate’s move is troubling.

The federal government already owns almost 650 million acres of land in the U.S. – and it can’t take care of what it already owns. Rebekah Rast writes in NetRightDaily.com that, in 2010, the federal government announced that the National Park Service was short about $9.5 billion in order to just clear its backlog of necessary improvements and repairs.

"At a time when our existing national parks are suffering, does it make sense for the federal government to grab new lands? How does the government expect to fund any of its new acquisitions?" she asks. "Likely the same way the government pays for everything else it acquires – with a printing press or an IOU."

Those most likely to be affected by the land grab are western states, whose citizens face the prospects of lost economic opportunity and increased chances of eminent domain actions. But any landowner could be considered at risk, and all citizens will be affected because the funds earmarked in the Senate measure are only to purchase the land, not administer it. Those additional dollars will have to come from somewhere else. So you’d better get ready to fight, or get ready to open up your wallets.

The Land Rights Network and American Land Rights Association are urging landowners to deluge their U.S. House representatives this week and next with calls opposing the Senate Transportation Bill when it comes to the House with the LWCF land acquisition funding included. You can call any congressman at 202-225-3121.

You can read more about this issue at http://netrightdaily.com. And, you can view how your state’s U.S. Senate members voted at www.landrights.org.

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