AFOA received the following statements 6/29/99 from the "Keep Private Lands in Private Hands Coalition" and thought members of AFOA would find them of value. We have boldfaced several sentences that we thought were especially interesting.
Keep Private Lands in Private Hands Coalition
PO Box 423
Battle Ground WA 98604
Karen J. Henry
Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation
House Committee on Resources
Relative to the
Conservation and Reinvestment Act of 1999 (H.R. 701)
Permanent Protection for America's Resources 2000 Act (H.R. 798)
Salt Lake City, Utah
June 12, 1999
I am Karen J. Henry, the elected President of the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation which is the largest agricultural organization in Wyoming. I am here today representing that organization, and its many private property owning members. I appreciate the opportunity to testify on H.R. 701 and H.R. 798.
Wyoming Farm Bureau must stand in opposition to these two pieces of legislation; H.R. 701 and H.R. 798. The problems with H.R. 798 are too numerous to adequately cover in the short amount of time allowed here. We feel a more accurate title for this act would be The Central Planning/Land Nationalization 2000 Act. The method of resource management advocated in this legislation has been shown to be an utter failure in the Communist Bloc countries.
American Farm Bureau Federation policy states that we favor the repeal of the Land and
Water Conservation Act, and has always felt that the funds allocated under that act should
be used by the federal land management agencies to better manage the lands they already
have. AFBF policy further state that:
Experience has shown that an improving environment is dependent upon economic productivity, and that economic productivity is dependent upon private ownership of the means of production. Because we view land as a means of production, we are concerned that over one-third of the land in this nation is owned by the federal government.
Increasing federal land acquisitions and federal land use regulations are inimical to economic productivity and resultant environmental improvements. We oppose further expansion of federal land ownership, and we support a national policy of no net loss of private lands.
The claim that government ownership of the land protects the environment can be laid to rest just by going out and looking at the poor environmental condition of land managed solely by the government. Politics drives the management of these lands, not the needs of the resource; so the management is bound to fail, and the nation loses the resource.
Federal land management agencies are unable to carry out their Congressional mandates.
Maintenance and rehabilitation projects are underfunded or not funded at all, and the
backlog has become staggering in recent years. You need look no farther than Yellowstone,
in my home state of Wyoming, to see the many shortcomings of federal land management. The
federal government has enough land here in the west. Farm Bureau members object to
having tax money given to federal agencies to buy up their land. Removing the
private land owner will result in a reduction of the tax base. Productive uses of private
land are an economic imperative in every state. With this loss of income, how are
governments supposed to deal with the costs of managing, improving, and maintaining their
public lands? It's one thing to buy land, quite another to manage it correctly. Even with
the provision that only one-third of the money in the fund will be used to buy land in the
west, we are still faced with the prospect of agencies having $126 million per year to
acquire privately held lands in the west; if the fund has the full $900 million. It won't
take the government long to buy up what they don't already own.
While there are prohibitions against the condemnation of property to allow purchase, and requirements that purchases of over one million dollars must have congressional approval, there are many opportunities for abuse in this legislation. When governments covet a piece of land, there are many weapons at their disposal to turn an unwilling seller into a willing seller. Further, there is no provision that state and local governments must buy from willing sellers. The provisions for congressional approval for purchases of over one million dollars are inadequate. They work well if someone has land worth over one million dollars; but do nothing to protect the vast majority of land owners whose land is worth less than one million dollars. Unfortunately, this provision may lead to a scenario where no one has land worth more than one million dollars. Land acquisitions, coupled with the burdensome environmental regulations in this country, could be used to deny access for recreation, limit avenues for commerce, and control the activities of the remaining private landowners to the point that it is not profitable for them to own land. Landowners have every reason to fear that this is the real purpose of this bill. Assertions that this bill will further protect endangered species undoubtedly stems from the federal land management agency's frustration that they cannot get permission to survey private land. The Endangered Species Act has been used as a club against landowners. Changing the ESA, to reflect the reality that private land ownership promotes and maintains healthy habitat, will do more to protect the environment than the provisions of H.R. 701 will ever do.
Farm Bureau has always been in the front line defending private property rights, so we must oppose H.R. 701 which establishes a fund which could be used by government agencies to acquire private property. Wyoming Farm Bureau has long been opposed to the Game and Fish Commission setting up a trust fund for the purposes of game management, wildlife habitat or any other purpose, including land acquisition. Control of the land and water resource conveys awesome power to the entity having the control. Without the personal responsibility and obligation to the next generation that arises out of having to make a long term living on your land, that power is corrupting. The power derived from land ownership by the government, or the public, is not power that is invested back into the resource, it is invested in creating agency empires; in creating political power, and in gathering the power to force people to conform with what the government thinks is the ideal working society. Bills like H.R. 701 and H.R. 798 erode our ability; our very right, to be self-determining.
Private ownership of property is one of the cornerstones of our democracy.
The founders of this country knew, firsthand, what it was like to have a society where
only the governing elite, or the monarchy, controlled all the land.
Private landowners are the best conservators of the resource, they need it to live. Private land in Wyoming supports most of the state's wildlife and water resource. While private landowners have been demonized as destroyers of the earth and wasters of the wildlife and the water, just a little critical thought will expose the weakness of this reasoning. Healthy land is the only way to success for an agricultural producer. A government, on the other hand, does not necessarily have to worry about the health of the land. They just have to worry that they have the biggest chunk.
Having the biggest piece translates into more money, more power and more influence. The loser here is the resource; there is no one to care for the land, because responsibility can be passed to the next person. That is the tragedy of the commons, everyone owns it, but no one is responsible for it; the buck never has to stop. There is no justification for giving the government more money or power to acquire land, and further erode the rights of citizens in this country to own property, determine their own fates, and exercise their freedoms.
We oppose H.R. 701 and H.R. 798. We support, in part, former Senator Malcolm Wallop's statement in his testimony that revenues from oil and gas production should be shared with the states in which production activities are located, a fifty-fifty split with no agenda attached. The states use the money where it is needed. Straightforward legislation that would share revenues to help the states meet their individual needs; not the perceived or political needs of the federal government would be supported. If we are going to govern by trust fund, we don't need congress for representation; we can simply put government on auto pilot and watch it run.
Thank you for this opportunity to testify in opposition to H.R. 701 and H.R. 798.
Testimony of Mr. Frank Priestley, President
Idaho Farm Bureau Federation
HOUSE RESOURCES COMMITTEE
June 12, 1999
Salt Lake City, Utah
Chairman Young and Members of the Committee:
I am Mr. Frank Priestley, President of the 49,000 member Idaho Farm Bureau Federation. It is indeed a pleasure for me to appear before the House Resource Committee to discuss H.R. 701 and it is indeed an honor for me to recognize Idaho's own Congressman Helen Chenoweth who is known and respected by us and this great nation as a champion of private property rights and a friend of agriculture. We want to also thank Congressman Jim Hansen for bringing this hearing to the West as well as you committee members who have taken time from your busy schedules to attend this hearing. The Idaho Farm Bureau Federation thanks you for allowing us to enter our comments on H.R. 701 into the official record.
H.R. 701, the "Conservation and Reinvestment Act of 1999" has been extensively reviewed and extensively discussed by the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation and we find the act in basic conflict with Idaho Farm Bureau Policy Number 69 which states: "We support no net loss of private property. We urge enactment of legislation to require prior legislative approval for any federal land acquisition on a parcel by parcel basis."
Idaho, as a public land state, is over 66% owned by the federal government. Most western states have over 50% of their land owned by the federal government and this leaves very little private land in many counties. These counties rely heavily upon the natural resource industries to sustain jobs and families, but with the decrease in mining, logging and grazing that has been pushed by the Clinton Administration, many counties are finding themselves without the financial resources to adequately support their infrastructure needs. H.R. 701 would compound this problem, for the bill authorizes $378 million for federal land acquisition which would remove more private land from the tax rolls as well as $378 million per year for state acquisition of private property.
In addition, Idaho Farm Bureau Policy Number 23 states "We recommend that a fee in lieu of taxes be assessed on all lands removed from tax rolls by state or federal agency ownership. We favor an annual fee equivalent to local private property tax on land. We recommend that these fees be tied to the cost of living index."
H.R. 701 appropriates approximately $65 million in interest payments to PILT [payments in lieu of taxes], however in Idaho and most of the Western United States, with the drop in logging, mining and grazing revenues and with PILT payments never being fully funded, county revenues are decreasing dramatically. $65 million, when accompanied by purchases of vast tracts of new lands cannot possibly compensate for the loss of revenue and this will put even more pressure on western states and counties. If the federal government is going to continue to be the west's largest landlord, they must pay their fair share of the county infrastructure needs.
The bill ends the current practice of condemnation of private land by the federal government for land and water conservation purchases and limits acquisition to a willing seller. Certainly, in the past this did not occur and the government used the fund to acquire vast tracts of land. This section of the bill could prevent the wholesale purchase of private land, but we feel the wording must be much tighter to assure that willing sellers are not coerced into the sale. One need only look around at the happenings in the west to see that ranchers and farmers are under constant pressure to give up their holdings to the federal government and willingness to sell oftentimes comes after years of pressure and sometimes, abuse, at the hands of federal bureaucrats. Even states are not exempt from this pressure, for right here in Utah the Grande Staircase Escalante was created over the objections of the State. If states cannot resist this pressure, how could an individual resist such pressure!
We are not comfortable with the provisions of the bill that bypasses Congressional appropriation authority. We recognize the need of local jurisdictions to have a permanent source of dollars for assistance grants for creating parks, open spaces and recreational facilities, but we also recognize that Congressional appropriation holds the federal bureaucracy in check and permanent funding without Congressional oversight bothers us. We would recommend this section be modified to give Congress appropriation authority over most of the funding. In addition without Congressional appropriation this bill becomes a nearly $1 Billion / year entitlement which is off budget and certainly complicates efforts to balance the federal budget. Since these monies now go into the treasury a study should be conducted to determine the source of replacement monies to take up the $1 billion/year withdrawal.
This bill dictates that federal agencies be considered partners with local units of government when land use planning decisions occur. This is totally unacceptable to us for it will lead to federal interference with local government and federal domination of land use decisions.
The Idaho Farm Bureau Federation is not comfortable with any bill that will allow for more federal acquisition of private land since the federal government already owns almost 50% of the west, and as stated before, 66% of the State of Idaho. We do note with a certain amount of pleasure that this bill has as its basis the principle of a willing buyer and seller creating an agreement. This concept is supported by Farm Bureau policy and it is good to see it is becoming a part of Congressional management bills. We recognize that in some national parks there are still private inholders that have been waiting for funds to buy them out and we have no objections to the purchase of these existing inholdings if the seller is willing. We would strongly oppose any other purchases of private property by federal agencies in the west, for we feel the way it is now handled on an exchange basis keeps the no net gain of federal land policy in effect and Idaho Farm Bureau policy strongly supports this concept.
We feel the distribution formula used in this bill is crafted with an eye on political votes rather than perceived needs. Some states like Alaska ($150 million), Texas ($205 million), California ($125 million) and New York ($ 83 million), along with the newly classified coastal states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Illinois seem to be aimed specifically at contributing toward establishing a winning political coalition. Since Idaho has an inland port at Lewiston, perhaps we too should be classified as a coastal state and increase our allotment from $11.5 million to something really astounding. We feel that the formula used indicates the bill is designed specifically to get votes.
In closing, we want to once again thank the committee for allowing the Idaho Farm Bureau to express our views of H.R. 701. We recognize that local government is strapped in providing parks and recreation for their citizens, but we feel H.R. 701 goes so far in expanding federal and state land acquisition that local government needs are almost left out. We do not object to dollars being used for enhancing urban quality of life, but with the federal government already demonstrating it cannot manage the lands that it currently has in its inventory, we must adamantly oppose any new additions. Currently there is a $12 billion dollar backlog on infrastructure needs on government lands and this is resulting in closing campgrounds, parks and roads throughout the nation. H.R. 701 does not address that issue, rather it adds to the problem by bringing in considerably more land to mismanage. We feel H.R. 701 needs to be extensively modified to make it good public policy and gain Idaho Farm Bureau Federation support. We do appreciate the work currently going on in Washington D.C. between the Committee and American Farm Bureau Federation to modify the bill.
Thank you again for allowing us to express our views on H.R. 701.
Frank Priestley, President
Idaho Farm Bureau Federation