Property Rights Foundation of America®

Property Rights Foundation of America, Inc.
P.O. Box 75, Stony Creek, New York 12878 - 518/696-5748

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March 10, 2002

Kit Kimball
Director, Office of External and
Intergovernmental Affairs
U.S. Department of Interior
1849 C Street, N. W., Room 6214
Washington, DC 20240

Dear Ms. Kimball:

I much appreciated your letter last September asking me to consider your office as our central contact at the Department of Interior and saying that you are looking forward to learning my concerns. Although I was unable to share my concerns with you at the time, we were pleased to post your letter on our web site shortly afterwards.

Subsequently, Ray Beittel of DOI's Planning Office kindly transmitted an invitation from P. Lynn Scarlett, Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget, to join the dialogue at the meeting on January 14 in Washington, D.C., related to the DOI five-year Strategic Plan.

I was pleased to attend this meeting, which was led by Carl D. DeMaio, and to tender many oral comments related to strategic goals to protect private property rights, to preserve increase private property ownership, and to the balanced management of DOI lands. I am looking forward to receiving copies of the transcript and meeting summary.

The comments that I made were drawn from insights gained from many years of work with private property owners and others who must deal with policies of DOI, other federal agencies, and the non-profit corporations with which these government agencies have formed relationships. Considering that the DOI manages 507 million acres (including 56 million acres under the Bureau of Indian Affairs), the magnitude of impact of DOI policies is immense. Fully one-fifth of the land mass in the U.S. is under DOI management.

This letter is to give you a rough recapitulation and expansion of remarks that I made on January 14. I chose to make these remarks because of my desire to convey the central directions where I think that DOI should change course to better respect private property rights, promote the American tradition of private land ownership, and improve the management of its lands.

Restoration of Endangered, Threatened and Rare Species, Land Acquisition

The restoration of endangered, threatened and rare species on government-owned land should be bid out to the private sector in a fiscally responsible, competitive, transparent way, much as the construction of a highway or building is bid out.

I oppose using purported goals such as the restoration of "whole ecosystems," "ecosystem management," or the like, because this direction is illusive, unscientific, and bound up in religiously contrived distortions. For in-depth development of the fundamental weaknesses of this approach, see Allan K. Fitzsimmons, Defending Illusions - Federal Protection of Ecosystems (Rowman & Littlefield, 1999).

Publicly bidding the restoration of wildlife species to the private sector would include all functions from mapping and measurement of species occurrences (as in The Nature Conservancy's Natural Heritage program) to land acquisition (where the land trusts act as third party intermediaries, or land agents, for government). The public process would eliminate the favored relationships of not-profits in "partnerships" and would foreclose the use of grants for work by private organizations. Functions of species restoration would not be considered internal, where not-profit "partnerships" flourish.

All the facets of wildlife restoration and land acquisition that currently are accomplished with partnerships and grants, or quietly negotiated deals would be openly and transparently accomplished. Shared offices and staff would be eliminated. Memoranda of Understanding (MOU's) like the major deal executed between the U.S. Forest Service and The Nature Conservancy last fall would be abrogated and new, open processes substituted.

Use of third party intermediaries to acquire conservation easements would be eliminated. Landowners would be forthrightly told that the party ultimately acquiring the conservation easement is the relevant government bureau and would deal directly with that bureau.

Work performed for the government for wildlife restoration and protection would be to the same standards aspired to by Wall Street for publicly held corporations or sought by those who financially and qualitatively critique work done for government by the construction industry,-open, transparent, subject to audit by the strict standards of the comptroller, non-monopolistic, subject to competition, and so on. The present corporatism between government environmental bureaus and the environmental organizations would be brought to an end.

As I pointed out at the strategic planning meeting on January 14, measures of accomplishment of this goal would be quite simple and objective. Memoranda of Understanding could be inventoried, and those involving private, non-profit entities where non-competitive insider relationships formed the basis for the contract would be eliminated on a scheduled, quantifiable, basis. Score could be kept on the basis of dollar value, count, geographic region, or bureau.

Promotion of and Respect for Private Property Rights in All Dealings with Private Landowners, Owners of Rights in Federal Lands, and Those using Federal Lands for Access

A well-publicized recent wrong direction of the DOI was the treatment of the farmers in the Klamath Basin. Distortions by the DOI fed the media the false impression that the farmers were asking for favors by the federal government, when the truth was that the farmers held deeded private property rights to the water that the DOI cut off. If the Federal government wanted to take this water for whatever purpose, it was necessary to negotiate to purchase it or do the honorable thing, take the water by eminent domain, where the courts would determine the value for just compensation.

DOI wouldn't even call in the God Squad to settle the dispute! Over and over, DOI took the harsh approach, during the new Administration. One of the finest legal defense organizations in the nation, Pacific Legal Foundation, had to be called in to litigate against what property rights defenders had hoped would be an Administration that respected fundamental property rights.

Here in New York State, the National Park Service was shown in a light usually reserved for the Appalachians when it hit the press that NPS was going to court to condemn land from a group of Catholic friars. What a pity that the Franciscan Friars had to battle against the NPS over some 20 acres of land that this DOI agency, widely recognized in the more rural areas of the country as a merciless land-grabber, wanted for the purpose of widening the Appalachian Trail. The friars offer more than 400 Appalachian Trail hikers each year a place to stay, meals and showers, but no matter to NPS. Finally, the bad publicity forced NPS to negotiate, and the friars feel that they have at least short-term security.

Certainly, at a minimum, DOI should inventory the outstanding lawsuits and disputes under each of its bureaus and move in the direction to settle those that relate to private property rights.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should cease its excessive prosecutions of landowners for endangered species issues and its excessive obstruction of productive use of resources on the basis of endangered species.

An area which is ripe for systematic settlement is that of public rights of way and access to mineral and other rights on federal lands and to private lands located beyond federal lands. The mistreatment of owners of private lands beyond Denali National Park is classic. But the more familiar disputes related to established routes on government lands in the lower Forty-eight cries out for permanent settlement.

Here in New York and New England, the deception and aggressiveness of the National Park Service as it promotes the international Champlain-Richelieu National Heritage Area only reduces the credibility of the agency. These Heritage Area programs are part of the drive on the part of NPS to de-privatize land, to reduce access and use of areas along waterways as a primary goal.

In addition, NPS still pushes the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve idea, even though, finally, Congress has become aware and supportive of ending the unilateral NPS/DOS hold on the designation of these areas. The burden is still on localities to detect and publicize these projects before designation, as we did with the Catskill Mountain Biosphere Reserve, resulting in the withdrawal of the proposal.

Management of DOI Lands to Protect Adjacent Landowners, Human Life, Rural Communities, Wildlife, and the Environment, and to Produce Goods, Provide Recreation, and Reduce Eco-Colonialism

The extreme wildlands orientation of federal agencies during recent decades that has allowed the buildup of fuel while rural communities decline because of being blocked from resource extraction should be reversed. Firebreaks, fuel harvesting, use of natural resources combined with conservation so that harvests can continue into the future, are basic to the protection of human life and rural communities. Slaughter of wildlife during wildfires should be stopped.

Pollution of the air from the burning of millions of acres of forests during the summer of 2000 should be scientifically measured, its impact on the environment compared with other human-caused impacts where other federal agencies engage in enforcement. The NEPA analysis of the no-action alternative to harvesting forestry resources awaits compliance with law. I noticed that at the strategy meeting on January 14, a DOI goal was to engage in inter-agency planning, which would make possible the interagency NEPA comparative studies.

If private landowners caused such destruction, prosecutions would quickly follow. Investigations and prosecutions should be sought where wild fires spread on federal lands because of mismanagement, especially where private property is damaged or human life is lost.

The ethics of eco-colonialism policy foisted on U.S. corporations by federal agencies that are making mining and timber harvest unprofitable in the US should be faced, as corporations move abroad to produce essential minerals and wood products. In addition, the relation of federal land lockup to the national security should be investigated. These studies should be part of the outsourced, publicly bid projects DOI should put forward.

The concept of roadless areas is one of the most damaging developments. It reduces recreational access. It inhibits fire-fighting. It loses resources, namely roads that serve the public and productive sector. Roadless areas are part of the wildlands concept of closing down public lands. The policy of roadless areas should be reversed.

Motorized disabled access should be systematically created, as is being achieved in the $5 million settlement of the ADA lawsuit in New York related to the State Forest Preserve lands.

The Presidential designation of National Monuments on large tracts of federal land is another wrongful lockup of resources, directed to the radical wildlands program, and should be reversed by the Administration.

DOI has the largest influence of any federal agency related to land management. Its philosophy of management of lands for wildlands trickles down to state and local government. DOI should use its leadership role to influence the nation's other land agencies at every level to move in a more balanced direction.

Privatizing Land

DOI should inventory its holdings and evaluate where the public interest would be better served if land were privately held. After the time for scientific and public input, DOI should begin gradually privatizing as much of its landholdings as is desirable. This goal, as so many others enumerated in this letter and at the strategy meeting, is eminently measurable and its fulfillment should be scheduled.

No additional DOI lands should be acquired, either in fee simple or as conservation easements.

Thank you for the invitation to submit my concerns. By way of this letter, I'd also like to express my appreciation to Assistant Secretary Lynn Scarlet and to Ray Beitell for the opportunity to participate in the strategic planning meeting on January 14. I'd like to request that this letter be officially included in the strategic planning process.

I would enjoy the opportunity to discuss further information related to the issues in this letter.

Carol W. LaGrasse

cc. P. Lynn Scarlett
Assistant Secretary
Policy, Management and Budget

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