Gloria doesn't get it: an analysis of the tug-of-war for land

By Henry Lamb
web posted January 31, 2000

Gloria Flora resigned her job as Supervisor of the largest national forest in the lower 48, because what she calls an "anti-government" sentiment had reached a "fevered pitch." Something had to give. "Rather than waiting for a bomb, or for someone to get hurt, I decided to step down."

That fever pitch of "anti-government" sentiment is what others call defending their freedom from a government, which they believe, has overstepped its Constitutional authority.

The issue stems from a small stretch of South Canyon Road in Elko County Nevada, which was washed away by floods. The County wanted to rebuild the road; Gloria's Forest Service said no.

The South Canyon Road situation is but one of thousands of similar cases confronting property owners and land users all across the country. An examination of the attitudes and issues reveals why America is in a winner-take-all tug-of-war for the land and its resources.

Gloria spoke to about 100 supporters January 26 in Kalispell, Montana, at a gathering sponsored by the Montana Human Rights Network, and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. Across town, more than 600 people attended a rally sponsored by Montanans for Multiple Use. The people brought shovels to send to Elko in a show of support for the County's determination to rebuild South Canyon Road.

"The road isn't even the issue," Gloria told a reporter. "The issue here is a serious anger toward the federal government in general."

Gloria doesn't have a clue about why the people are angry. "While a bit of protest is a good thing in any democracy," she said, "you can have too much of a good thing. I'm coming [to Kalispell] to talk about civility in our public discussion."

The absence of civility in public discussions is a major reason for the frustration Americans have with federal agencies. In America, discussions about public policy are supposed to be open, honest, and if they are heated, so much the better. All opinions should be welcome. Differing opinions about public policy are supposed to be resolved, finally, by elected officials, in a public vote.

To Gloria, civility in public discussion means that the public should listen to her agency's presentation, make suggestions, if invited to do so, about how to implement the object of the presentation, and be thankful for the opportunity to speak. Dissent from the object of an agency's presentation is considered to be anti-government, by Gloria and many of her colleagues.

It's not Gloria's fault; it's her training. Since the President's Council on Sustainable Development (PCSD) was created by Executive Order in 1993, (to conform to the recommendations of Agenda 21, a policy document adopted by the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development in 1992) the agencies of the federal government have been trained to substitute the "consensus" process for the old-fashioned "hearing" process in public discussions.

Public policy-making is not within the Constitutional purview of the President, nor any of the federal agencies. Their function is limited to the implementation of the public policies enacted by Congress.

The PCSD, however, in compliance with the recommendations contained in Agenda 21, said "We need a new collaborative decision process that leads to better decisions; more rapid change; and more sensible use of human, natural, and financial resources in achieving our goals." Neither Congress, nor the Constitution has authorized any change in the "decision process," but Gloria's agency, at the direction of her White House boss, has changed the decision-making process. The new process is designed to limit, or prevent public discussion of views that dissent from the government's objectives.

The President announced recently that he had instructed the Department of Agriculture to promulgate rules to close the roads on nearly 40 million acres of federal lands. This is a new public policy - which Congress has not authorized. Gloria doesn't understand why Americans are angered by this policy-making-by-decree.

Because the law requires public comment and input when the rules for implementing legislation are changed, The Department of Agriculture's Forest Service conducted what they called public hearings on the proposed road closure rule change.

The President made his "Roadless" announcement in October. Within 30 days, the Department announced that each of eight federal regions would hold a series of "public meetings." More than 100 such meetings were held between November 17, and December 16. The comment period closed at the end of December. The agency could say it had complied with the law, and issue its new rules.

Did the agency comply with the intent of the law to provide Americans with ample opportunity to speak for or against the proposed rule change? Absolutely not!

The meetings were held only a few days after the schedule was announced, during the busy holiday season. Why the rush? When the people arrived at the meetings, they were confronted with a presentation of how wonderful the roadless plan would be. Those who wanted to speak were told to write their question - not questions - on a card, and time permitting, they might be allowed to ask it. Those who were chosen to speak were given a strict time limit, often no more than two minutes. Video taping of the meetings was not allowed in some cases.

Gloria, this decision-making process is not public discussion. The Forest Service knew what it was going to do before the pubic comment meetings were held. They were held only because the law requires it. They were designed to screen out dissent. The people who are most directly affected by the policy changes were muzzled. And Gloria doesn't understand why people are angry?

The tug-of-war between the federal government and the people who live on, and use the land, is much deeper than process. It goes to the very principle of property rights in America. Gloria correctly says, that "Many of the land-use decisions we are making today are almost irreversible." That's why it is imperative that the decisions reflect the will - and the consent - of the people who will be most affected by them. But Gloria says that "Half the people I represent are not even born yet." And President Clinton's mantra in the land lock-up scheme is to protect the land for future generations.

The reality of the land lock-up scheme is that the land will be protected from future generations as well as from the present generation that depends upon it. Once land is designated as wilderness, the wealth of resources it contains is no longer available to human beings. Neither this, nor future generations can enjoy the benefits the land offers. As the roads are closed, people cannot even see the land, nor cultivate its resources.

Congress authorized nine million acres to be designated as wilderness in 1964, as the result of a five-year campaign by the Wilderness Society. Additional wilderness acreage has been authorized by Congress over the years, until now we have more than 100-million acres in wilderness. Without Congressional authorization, the Clinton administration has expanded wilderness areas substantially by executive decree. His new initiative, if successful, will expand wilderness to nearly 200 million acres.

Why? How much wilderness do we need?

Since future generations cannot use the wilderness, it makes no sense to say that we are protecting it for them, although it makes for a nice sound bite on television.

The truth is that there are two, conflicting views about who should own the land. America was founded on the belief that individuals should own the land. In fact, the Constitution says that the federal government should own only that land required for public buildings and facilities. That was a unique view in the 1700s. Throughout the rest of the world, land was the exclusive property of the King, or Czar, or ruling government - whatever it was called. The government granted individuals the right to use some portion of the land in exchange for a percentage of its yield. The American revolution was about getting out from under that kind of servitude to government. It was about gaining the freedom to possess land and use its bounty for personal gain. This principle of private ownership of land is the foundation of America's greatness.

Not all Americans, however, agree with this fundamental principle. Throughout the 1900s, the notion that government should own the land gained prominence, fanned by the strong socialist movement in America following the 1917 revolution in Russia. Federal land that was given away to anyone who would homestead it in the 1800s, was locked into federal ownership by the Federal Land Policy Management Act of 1976.

Ironically, that same year, the American delegation to the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements signed a document in Vancouver, British Columbia that says, in part:

"Land...cannot be treated as an ordinary asset, controlled by individuals and subject to the pressures and inefficiencies of the market. Private land ownership is also a principal instrument of accumulation and concentration of wealth and therefore contributes to social injustice.... Public control of land use is therefore indispensable...."

In 1993, President Clinton signed the Convention on Biological Diversity, which requires every nation to establish a system of "protected areas," according to a plan identified as the "Wildlands Project," published in the United States in 1992. The Wildlands Project says that:

"...at least half of the land area of the 48 conterminous states should be encompassed in core reserves and inner corridor zones...assuming that most of the other 50 percent is managed intelligently as buffer zone."

The President's "Lands Legacy" program is the implementation of the un-ratified Convention on Biological Diversity, without Congressional authorization, initiated by Executive Decree, and implemented by the agencies of the federal government. The continuing wilderness lock-up of federal lands, combined the administration's efforts to establish a $3 billion yearly slush fund to purchase private property, we are well on the way to converting "...at least half" of the nation in wilderness and most of the other half to government owned or controlled buffer zones.

And Gloria doesn't understand what Americans are angry?

To be fair to poor Gloria, she has probably never read the Convention on Biological Diversity, or the Global Biodiversity Assessment. She, like many of her colleagues, are mystified by Americans, who have read these documents, when reference is made to the influence of the United Nations. She calls it "getting down and dirty" when dissenters "confuse the public" by making "villains where villains don't exist, or making heroes where only villains exist."

The tug-of-war is over much more than South Canyon Road in Elko, Nevada. Angry, frustrated Americans are sending thousands of shovels to Elko - not bombs, Gloria - to express their belief that the land and its resources should belong to the people - not to the government. Individual owners are far better, more responsible, managers of their own property than any agency of government. Gloria, and the Clinton administration disagree.

To Gloria, and the Clinton administration, Americans who have the audacity to speak out against their policy-by-decree to lock-up the land away from individuals in this and future generations, are nothing more than anti-government villains. She says these anti-government groups have slogans like "Remember Waco; God is on our side; and God loves freedom-fighters. These kinds of slogans can encourage a certain kind of person, and that can lead to a very dangerous situation."

Gloria just doesn't get it. But she is right about one thing. Continuation of the arrogant, dictatorial behavior of the administration and its agencies can lead to a very dangerous situation: it's called unemployment.

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

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