In early August a press release was issued in response to the U.N.’s IPCC latest report on the nonexistent climate change crisis, asking Congress to fund HR 3195, the Land and Water Conservation Fund Permanent Fund Act to the tune of $900 million dollars a year. This amount is two and one-half times greater than the Fund’s annual expenditures over the last 15 years. Why do they need this much money is a question left unanswered, however, Agenda 21 comes to mind. All that we can be certain of is this bill is not in the interest of taxpayers or American landowners.
Introduced by Congressman Jefferson Van Drew of New Jersey in June, HR 3195 has gained 193 cosponsors, 17 of which are Republicans from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Kansas, Florida, Tennessee, Texas, Nebraska, West Virginia and Virginia.
Created in 1964 and funded by federal oil and gas drilling royalties, the Water Conservation Fund’s original intent was to assist in expanding and preserving Americans’ access to outdoor recreation. Over the years however, Congress, the Department of Interior, and the Forest Service have used the fund primarily to grow the massive landholdings for the federal government, despite the government’s incapacity to effectively manage the land.
Adam Smith diagnosed the problems associated with government ownership of land in his classic treatise, the Wealth of Nations (1776). Smith concluded that “no two characters seem more inconsistent than those of the trader and the sovereign” since people are more prodigal with the wealth of others than with their own. In that vein, he estimated that lands owned by the state were only about 25% as productive as comparable private holdings. Smith believed Europe’s great tracts of crown lands to be “a mere waste and loss of country in respect both of produce and population.”
The Founders understood that the way land was owned would affect everything. As a result of the foundation laid by the Founders and subsequent legislation in the 19th century, about 816 million acres of public domain land was privatized between 1781 and 2015, with 97% of the privatization taking place before 1940. The government now owns roughly 640 million acres, an area that is about 28% of the nation’s total surface of 2.27 billion acres and over 7 times larger than Germany.
This land is administered by:
The United States Forest Service which oversees timber harvesting, recreation, wildlife habitat protection and other sustainable uses on land that is almost the size of Turkey;
The National Park Service charged with conserving land and resources on an area the size of Norway;
The Bureau of Land Management that supports energy development, recreation, grazing, conservation, etc. on an area the size of Egypt, and,
The Fish and Wildlife Service that is charged with conserving and protecting animal and plant species on acreage slightly larger than Germany.
Like most government programs, there are few restrictions on how Congress can spend the money in the Fund. Since 1998, over $2.5 billion has been “diverted” by Congress to “other purposes” that include projects that have little, if anything, to do with the law’s original intent.
The reported annual cost of the government’s land holdings, which omits capital carrying charges, exceeds the annual revenues generated from the lands by a very wide margin. Privatization of the government’s commercial grazing lands, timberlands, and the 11.4 million acres managed by the Department of Defense would eliminate these massive losses for American taxpayers.
Rather than giving Congress almost a billion dollars a year to waste on pet projects that line the pockets of their donors, their family and friends, or their own future retirement, Congress should commit to good land management and environmental stewardship by freezing federal land acquisition altogether, addressing massive maintenance backlogs in the most important national parks, and allowing states, local communities, nonprofits, and private individuals to drive decisions about parkland in America.
Source: The Democrats’ Plan To Nationalize Land, Democratic Socialism In Action, Forbes; Five Reasons to Sunset the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Heritage Foundation