Keeping stolen property

By Charles Bloomer
web posted March 5, 2001

Interior Secretary Gale Norton has announced that the Bush administration has no plans to overturn the Clinton administration's unconstitutional designation of millions of acres of land as off-limits. This hardly seems an appropriate behavior of an administration that vehemently defends its legitimacy in the provisions of the constitution - the peaceful transfer of power, the primacy of the Electoral College, the Supreme Court's interpretation of election laws.

While the 1906 Antiquities Act may have been passed with good intentions, those good intentions have lead to bad law and unintended consequences, including abuse of power. The law remains on the books because it raises strong emotions that cloud good sense. No one seems willing to challenge the constitutionality of the act. Opposing the law that gave us National Parks such as Yellowstone immediately paints the opponents as wildlife haters, or worse, supporters of the dreaded "urban sprawl". After all, only capitalist philistines could oppose preserving the wild, natural beauty of Shenandoah. Supporters of the law can sleep at night because they "feel" good about protecting our natural wilderness areas.

The Executive Orders that President Clinton used to designate monuments are not supported by the Constitution of the United States. The constitution allows congress to exercise authority over lands purchased with the consent of the legislature of the state wherein the land lies, for use in the legitimate functioning of the federal government. Designating and maintaining national parks, forests and monuments are not a legitimate, constitutional function of the federal government.

Additionally, federal land grabs violate states' rights guaranteed by the tenth amendment. The states, not the federal government, have the right to determine the disposition of "public" lands. The people of the states, through their elected bodies, have the right to designate state parks and recreational areas if they wish. With that right, the people of the states have the responsibility to provide the money to maintain those parks.

Those who support the latest federal land grabs are willing to violate important founding principles that have made our nation the most prosperous in history. Private property rights are fundamental to our unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The socialist, utopian notion that the government knows best how to manage and allocate land and resources has resulted in failure in every case. Some of those failures have been spectacular, such as the massive pollution of land in the former communist satellites of the Soviet Union. In the United States, the poor land stewardship has resulted in deadly , destructive fires. With no intelligent motivation, the government manages its land in such a way that responds to emotion, seeking only to maintain its grip on votes, and therefore, power. The legitimate interests of the people, the efficient use of the land and the natural resources contained on or in the land are subverted by this lust for power.

The Bush administration should rethink its support for the illegitimate abuses of our land. Failing to overturn the designations of these millions of acres makes the new administration complicit in the Clinton administration's unconstitutional theft of the peoples' property. Not only should president Bush overturn the leftover Executive Orders, he should push for the repeal of the 1906 Antiquities Act. All federal land holdings not required for the legitimate functioning of the federal government should be turned over to the states, along with the responsibility to maintain those holdings. Each state could then decide the disposition of the land and its resources.

The new President should also scrap CARA - the Conservation and Reinvestment Act. This act provides federal tax dollars to buy more privately held property. The federal government already holds title to twenty-five percent of the land in the United States. How much land does the federal government need to perform its functions? It certainly doesn't need any more. Taxpayer money should not be used to illegally and unconstitutionally grab more land.

Other legislation being considered should also be rejected. Recent legislative proposals merely tinker with the problem, but do not offer acceptable solutions. One proposal would limit the president's designation to a mere 50,000 acres at a time. While that is considerably less than the multimillion acre Clinton grabs, it is still excessive. No one seems to be considering the economic impact of taking 50,000 acres out of productive use. Other legislation being considered does nothing to change the designation of stolen land. Instead, the proposals would smooth ruffled feathers by allowing more local control of the federal land or by fiddling with boundaries. Such proposals might be appealing to politicians in the affected states, but it is, in reality, insulting and patronizing.

Vote breakdownIt might be useful for the president to have several large posters made of "The Map". A copy should be hung in the office of every cabinet officer, especially the office of the Interior Secretary, to serve as a stark reminder of President Bush's support base. Those areas shown in red are not up for grabs by power-hungry federal officials.

President Bush owes his presidency to the US Constitution. Now he should show his respect for the entire document and the limitations it places on the federal government. The land belongs to the people. Give it back.

Charles Bloomer is a senior writer for Enter Stage Right. He can be contacted at (c) 2001 Charles Bloomer

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