Property Rights Foundation of America®

Speech from the Eighth Annual New York Conference
on Private Property Rights



The Liberty Garden

By Michael Shaw

The Liberty Garden is on the coastal zone in the county of Santa Cruz, which is a luxurious geographic location on the central coast of California. Sunny, sandy beaches line the coast and then it backs up against the redwood forest. In between, you have some very fertile farmlands and a landscape with weather and soils that will grow anything. It is a veritable garden, an oasis, within the continental United States. The particular property that I am going to describe lies with one half mile frontage on the ocean side of the freeway, Highway 1, and it is bounded on the other side by a 120-year-old county road. This piece of property has been intensely used for 150 years, first timbering, then farming, and for the last five or six generations it was heavily grazed. Half the property was grasslands, pasture, European grasses, pasturelands, and the other half of the property was oak woodlands that you could not enter because the poison oak vines sometimes could be as tall as forty feet and neither mammal nor human being could get their way through the thickets.

That is the condition of the property in 1985 when my wife and I bought it. It looked nice. The topography was great, the ocean view was wonderful, the access was tremendous, but on a day in May that I remember well, the day we got married there, you couldn't walk through the property, even as early as May, without plastic pants, because the thistles and stickers from those grasses would grab you.

By the spring of the year 2003, the landscape was transformed through a process we call seed bank management. Basically, that is pulling weeds, pruning plants, and managing the hydrology. We were able to lure back all the indigenous plants from an old seed bank into existence through this careful process. What we have growing are wildflowers, native grasses, sages, and rush plants. In 1985 Italian thistles were beginning to grow. They will get to about eight to ten feet, and, again, it just reminds you of how impenetrable this otherwise very nice landscape was.

In December of last year the grasses were very soft and comfortable to human beings. It is a place where people like to go. Our goal at the beginning was to create a landscape by pretending that we had interest in private property. We knew early on that we were intending to have interest in private property but by pretending so we sought to create something that we thought people would like. If people liked it, if we were able to prove that nature has an extrinsic value that can be encouraged by a marketplace where people came to get what they wanted, we could prove a point. And that point is that private property serves nature and man better than the alternatives.

You see, abundance ecology is a practice, it is a practice of landscape that holds that to release the potential productivity and diversity of the landscape, an owner must be free to engage in rigorous disturbance and free to pursue a reasoned and creative process of trial and error. This process would be suited to the choice of each individual and the uniqueness of each property.

One flower that didn't exist in 1995 on the property we have taken to be our emblem flower. It is called a mariposa lily. The former pasture grassland is now filled with them seasonally, as the hilltops can become a sea of these beautiful flowers that attract all kinds of insects, butterflies, etc.

At the entrance to the property back in 1985, you could see the non-indigenous plants. This past spring, I could stand in my shorts among all native grasses that are very hospitable and friendly to human beings. Again, it is a place that people would like to resort at or live at.

And the productivity, we have wild California hazelnuts. The ecologist that I know in town said, oh, you can't eat one of the hazelnuts. Only a few of them grow and we need to save those for the squirrels or the seedlings in the ground. But, through management, these plants, like most of the plants in California, can be made very productive on a twenty-foot tall bush that spreads twenty feet wide. We can literally pick bushels of nuts off of each tree.

Iris now spot throughout the wooded hillside to all over in places where the decades old stands of poison oak had been there before.

Sometimes very unusual plants grow. The California orchid, which only grows in areas that had been subjected to heavy disturbance, grows here. Three or four varieties of plants exist now at Liberty Garden that are known to exist in only one or two other places, plants that are so unusual the regulators haven't figured yet to put them on the Endangered Species Act. And these plants exist but for one reason and that is heavy manipulation and trial and error that the landscape has been subjected to.

You see, abundance ecology in theory requires that there be a direct relationship between man and land. That is what is paramount. This is for reasons of knowledge and innovation, because improving the planet is possible only in a society that respects the ideals of private property. But most people in America no longer know what private property is. They think it is land or it is a car, it is a thing. It might be your books or your home, but private property is much deeper than that, and that is the message that we need to take out to America. You see, private property begins with your hand. This is my private property. Each of us that have a hand, it is directed by us. And that is the essence of private property. It is the owner's determination of the use of something. It is a relationship between a person and a thing. It is that relationship that is private property. But it isn't just my hand. Private property extends to my thoughts. My thoughts, like yours, are private property of each of us. It is our expressions. It ultimately is our action. Private property is action. Without private property there can be no private action, meaning liberty. And without private property and private action there can be no private life. Freedom generally is rooted in private property and that is what the citizens in urban America need to be reminded of. Our loss in rural lands becomes their loss in their life.

Private property, private lives, and private action really evolve out of an idea, a theory of rights. When you look at the world today, there are but two theories of rights that can be explained. One theory is the theory that evolves under the Declaration of Independence. The other evolves under the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. And they contrast thoroughly one to the other.

A system of natural or unalienable rights is the one upon which life, liberty, and property is predicated. The other system is a system of man-granted rights. But if we have the rights based upon unalienable or natural rights, if that is the system of rights we subscribe to, certain institutions grow out of that. Our system of justice under a system of natural rights becomes a system of equal justice, not of social or group justice, but of equal, individual liberties protected. Government's role then is to protect those rights.

Instead of a precautionary principle governing how it is we manage land, which is the system under the granted rights theory of the United Nations Declaration, we have a system that allows for trial and error and experimentation because each citizen is free to engage in the use of his own property. We have a system of government under natural rights that limits government's power very strictly, and it is mindful of Isaiah's prophecy that if a land loses its boundaries and raids its treasury, that all of its riches can be gathered up by those evil doers. We have an economy under our system of natural rights where people are free to act and not a system that requires partnerships with government in order to be able to proceed. And we have a culture where the freedom to pursue one's individual potential exists. Today in America we have an educational system that fails to teach any of our children these basic notions.

But if there is such a thing as abundance ecology, there is also such a thing as shortage ecology, and the root of that shortage ecology, at least in the ecological context, is the Endangered Species Act. You see, it is because the Endangered Species Act strictly limits human potential that we find ourselves shifting from a system of natural rights to a system of granted rights. The Endangered Species Act is predicated on the international treaties and it is rooted in the precautionary principle which holds that no action can be taken unless it can be proven to show no harm. In Santa Cruz the best management practices being devised by the federal Department of Interior holds that if there is a long-toed salamander or a potential for a long-toed salamander at a place like Liberty Garden, of course there is, one cannot walk on the land during the period of the mating season because one could not prove one did not step on a long-toed salamander. You see, the Endangered Species Act puts government in control of plants, animals, and natural resources and that inevitably, as a rule of economics, leads to shortage.

Let me give you an example of shortage. There is a project, $450,000 over a five-year period, by one of the world's greatest agricultural universities, the University of California Davis. It involves a two-acre plot along Highway 505 in northern California. The goal was to create native grasses, the kind of plants you saw at Liberty Garden. The first year they plowed the land and got their friends to throw some seed, and they were all encouraged by some sproutings. But by the end of the season it was the same old weeds that were there the year before. Using that "college try" model, they decided to spend another $90,000 of taxpayer money, re-plowed it, re-planted it, sprouted again, but now it turned into star thistle, one of the most dreaded European weeds in the state of California. But lo and behold, if you took the picture from the other angle, there were a few native plants that sprouted. The fellow doing this report says that, at the cost and the process that they are following, the gains that they are making, it will cost the taxpayer $8.8 million per acre to restore under UC Davis programs one acre of native grassland. That is not the only example.

Liberty Garden exists in a little town called La Silva Beach. On the other side of La Silva Beach, a bushberry farmer had found this same long-toed salamander and took it up to the university. They regulated him to death, got that species on the Endangered Species Act, got his land. Townspeople thought they were going to get a place to walk but instead what we have is the firetrap, a weed lot, and signs.

I'll give another example, some big numbers. A current federal project to bring water from northern California to southern California has $300 million for the last eight years funded for the purpose of restoring Coho salmon to the delta. The way they intended to do that is to line the banks with native plants. So $2.4 billion has been spent, no fish have been recovered, no planting projects have worked, but The Nature Conservancy now owns much of the land that had been productive farmland in this region. A $600,000 grant was given to the Audubon Society out of those funds. They delivered a 3,000-page report that had no pictures that showed no action. In fact, no action was taken, but 3,000 pages were written, which nobody is reading.

This program comes to us via a plan called "sustainable development." A number of people have used the term "sustainable." They are using it in the English dictionary context. The program called "sustainable development" is one that has been fully embraced by the federal government in all agencies adopted by the first George Bush in 1992, and executed by Bill Clinton's executive order. It now prevails over all of federal activities. What is "not sustainable"? The Canadian oil billionaire, Maurice Strong, said when unveiling the Rio Corridor or sustainable development or Agenda 21 in 1992, "Current lifestyles and consumption patterns affecting the affluent middle class (that's your average urbanite), involving high meat intake, using fossil fuels or gasoline, appliances, meaning refrigeration, air conditioning, and (get this) suburban housing, are not sustainable." What we are seeing in America through our federal-state partnerships coming into towns, creating smart growth programs, and wildlands programs is the elimination, peg-by-peg, of the American middle class.

Let me explain the action plans for the land use programs of sustainable development. I would remind you that sustainable development has three programs. It has a global education program, a global land use program, and global population control. It includes The Wildlands Project, which calls for the elimination of human presence in over fifty percent of the American landscape and heavily controlled activity on most of the American land. Then it calls for smart growth. Dense human settlements are subject to increasing controls on how we live and increasing restrictions on our mobility. In Santa Cruz County we are in the full throes of the smart growth program.

The Wildlands Program has been in place in our county for some while. The redwood tree owners are unable to cut down a tree, the farmers are unable to tap their water without exorbitant taxes being imposed on what is theirs by property right and all of them are facing imminent bankruptcy.

The Wildlands Project includes zones that are to be off-limits to human activity, zones that are to be under heavy controls, and the human settlements or smart growth zones, a few of them on the coasts. The stated purpose from the United Nations for sustainable development is to meet today's needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. That language comes from the 1977 Soviet constitution. It is also part of the Santa Cruz local UN Agenda 21 program, committees that I attended.

What would have happened if our forefathers had said we are going to save the whale oil for the people of the twenty-first century? Take your choice—shortage ecology or Liberty Garden with native grasses and beautiful flowers, the kind of landscape people like.

The issue is an issue of rights. I want to make a point about the United Nations Charter, which we increasingly are employing by way of practice in this country. Article 29, Section III, says that the rights and freedoms in no case may be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations. This is to undo the Magna Carta and to give us the kind of world that was described for us that exists in Europe already, a system of government that is being reinvented in the United States. The Department of Agriculture fully embraces the United Nations program for sustainable development. In Santa Cruz County we contract with the local International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, a UN NGO in Canada.

The plants in Liberty Garden did not exist in 1985 and under man's management do exist. We have to remember that it is our children and the issues that they have and their education that are being missed as we forget our heritage as Americans, a heritage that is under severe attack and one that will only be resolved when we understand the importance of private property.

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