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Stealing our children's birthright

By Henry Lamb
web posted December 15, 2003

The generation that fought so hard to save the world from communism is now working feverishly to condemn America's future to socialism. Through dozens of programs, all designed to "protect" the land from development, we are transforming America from the land of the free, to a nation of renters.

Nearly every week, The Nature Conservancy announces a new scheme to "protect" vast stretches of land, through outright purchase, the purchase of development rights, or through conservation easements. TNC claims they have protected nearly 12 million acres already, and have their eye on another three million acres in Alabama and Tennessee. There are more than 1 200 similar "conservancy" organizations in the United States, all doing the same thing.

When a person fragments the title to his land with a perpetual conservation easement, or by selling development rights, he is, in effect, robbing future generations of the opportunity to make their own decisions about how to use the land. What right do we have to deny future generations the use of prime real estate?

The Nature Conservancy paints a pretty picture during the sales pitch: "Imagine a vast natural playground stretching from North Alabama into Central Tennessee. Imagine forests, meadows, rivers and wetlands open to the public for hunting, fishing, canoeing and hiking. Imagine farms managed to be both self-sustaining and environmentally responsible."

Sounds good, until the "open to the public" goes away. And who decides if, and when, and how long the area may be open to the public? Who decides how to manage the farms? The owner, of course - The Nature Conservancy. The private owners who are convinced to sell development rights, or conservation easements, sell their right to use their land in any way that's not agreeable to The Nature Conservancy. When it comes time to sell the land for retirement, or to pay medical bills, the land has little value, except to The Nature Conservancy. The price is no longer subject to market demand, it is virtually useless.

When The Nature Conservancy acquires the remaining rights to the land, are they under any obligation to keep the land open to the public? No. Their practice has been to use the land for development, for logging, for oil, or for whatever purpose they desire, including selling vast portions of unusable land to the government – often for a profit.

The campaign to save "the last great places," and all open space, has been incredibly successful, and even more ridiculous. There is no shortage of space in the United States. Less than five percent of the land area is developed, according to the federal government. There is plenty of space, but less and less of it is owned by private individuals.

Governments own nearly 42 per cent of the land area, and are buying more land every day. Conservancy organizations are buying land for their own "preserves," and selling what they don't want to government. Not only are we stealing our children's birthright, we are condemning them to eventually live in a socialist state, where government owns all the sources of production.

In every community where there is an "open space" bond initiative on the ballot, people should organize to defeat it. In every community where local government is planning to install a "comprehensive plan" to dictate the future use of private property, people should organize to defeat it.

At the rate we are now transferring private property to government, and to its surrogate "conservancy" organizations, it will take only a few more generations before all the land is under government ownership or control. America will then truly be a socialist nation.

Had this trend begun a hundred years ago, we would already be a socialist nation of renters, subject to the whims of government. When there is no more private land to produce property tax, will the government stop collecting tax? Hardly. The government will allow us to work its land and tax our productivity to whatever extent it wishes. That's how it works in socialist nations.

This march toward socialism can be reversed by first recognizing the gross disservice to future generations of our current land-grabbing policies. Then we should force government to begin divesting its gigantic inventories of land, returning it to the private sector, where it can again be the basis of our free-market economy.

This can happen only if we have an informed electorate that recognizes the dangers inherent in the present trend, and then works to elect officials at every level of government who share this belief in free markets, and are committed to keeping America the land of the free.

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

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