Property Rights Foundation of America, Inc.
P.O. Box 75, Stony Creek, New York 12878 - 518/696-5748
Web site: prfamerica.org
March 10, 2002
Director, Office of External and
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
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,
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
Management of DOI Lands to Protect Adjacent
Landowners, Human Life, Rural Communities, Wildlife, and the
Environment, and to Produce Goods, Provide Recreation, and Reduce
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
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
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.
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
Policy, Management and Budget