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Panthers and taxes: tools of landgrabbers

By Henry Lamb
web posted January 12, 2004

The goals of the Wildlands Project are to convert "at least" half of the U.S. land area to wilderness, to manage "most" of the rest of the land for "conservation objectives," and to force people to live inside urban boundaries in what's euphemistically called "sustainable communities."

Although this bizarre plan has never been debated or adopted by Congress, it is being implemented in dozens of ways by governments at every level, through a variety of feel-good programs, all working toward the Wildlands Project goals.

Two of these programs are especially sinister: reintroduction of the "Florida panther," and taxing Tennessee air.

According to Jan Michael Jacobson, a Florida scientist who specializes in Everglades ecology, there is no such thing as a "Florida" panther. The cats being reintroduced into the Everglades were catnapped from Texas, where they are considered vermin and legally shot as pests. When the Fish and Wildlife Service brings them across the Florida border, they are dubbed "Florida" panther, and declared to be an endangered or threatened species entitled to legal protection.

Jacobson says these cats are known to prefer children in the five-to-nine-year-old range, but will eat pets, that are much easier to catch than wild prey. This fact must have guided the government agencies that deposited the panthers at the edge of the Everglades, between two campgrounds, one of which is designed for elementary school children.

The panthers are protected; the people are not. The people can be jailed, or fined for interfering with the panthers or the people can leave the area. Promoters of the Wildlands Project believe that people have no business in the Everglades in the first place, and should be forced into the sustainable communities being prepared in Collier and Dade Counties.

In Tennessee, the scheme is even more sinister.

There was a time when government understood that "public" land was for use by the public. There have always been programs through which the government issued permits for individuals and corporations to use public land. The Wildlands Project is transforming "public" land to government land.

Over the years, about 65 families secured permits from the federal government to use small parcels of land inside the Cherokee National Forest in Polk County, Tennessee, to build summer cabins for recreation. Each family paid a fee for the permit, which had to be renewed every ten years. The price of the permit is set at five-percent of the appraised value of the cabin, one-fourth of which goes to the county. The county also receives Payment in Lieu of Taxes for every acre of federal land in the county, and state law prohibits direct taxation of federal land.

Polk County tax assessor Randy Yates, has come up with a brilliant scheme: a cabin that was appraised at $56,400 in 2003, for the first time in 50 years, had $164,000 added to the valuation for something called "leasehold." The total tax bill is now based on $220,400 valuation. This means that the permit fee can increase to $11,000, instead of the $2,800 produced by the former valuation.

What better way to drive people off "public" land?

When Yates first announced this scheme, the cabin owners, also referred to as "inholders," protested that their permits in no way constituted a taxable lease, since the permits have zero value, cannot be transferred, and if the permits are not renewed, the cabins must be destroyed or moved. Since none of the members of the local board of equalization owned a cabin in the National Forest, the board was indifferent to the cabin owners' appeals. In late December, a state Administrative Judge ruled that the leasehold scheme would stand. Cabin owners must pay tax on $164,000 of value they do not own, which exists only in the minds of government officials who declare it.

There are thousands of people who hold permits of various kinds, to use "public" land all across the country. If this new taxation scheme is allowed to stand, many, if not most, of these permit holders will be forced to abandon their use of "public" land. This single devious scheme may be more effective at forcing people off "public" land, than panthers in Florida, wolves in Pennsylvania, or all the endangered species in the West.

This Wildlands Project mentality polluted the Clinton/Gore administration, and land management agencies became the dumping ground for environmental extremists. No hazardous waste site should be assigned a higher priority for clean up, than the agencies of government still infested with people who believe the land should be owned and controlled by government.

Henry Lamb is the executive vice president of the Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO), and chairman of Sovereignty International.

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