Property Rights Foundation of America®

Speech from the Ninth Annual National Conference
on Private Property Rights
(2005)

Endangered Species Act Victims

Mark Bragg

Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to speak to you folks. R. J. has given me a little bit bigger introduction than I deserved. I didn't work in the Reagan White House. I worked in the Reagan campaign for President in 1980. I had always wanted to return to California. So, after working privately in political communications in Washington, D.C., we decided to move back to Palm Springs, and, basically, we have worked for fifteen years to try and develop a piece of property that we owned there. I am pleased to report that I have sold it off and somebody else is going to have all these headaches.

But I'll give you a little bit of background just so that you understand why we have done what we have done here. Actually when I was a child, I started out as a cub reporter for my father's weekly newspaper, so I got into the journalism business early on. I ended up becoming a journalist. I went to school for it. I spent four years on the Armed Forces radio and television service. When I got out of the Service, I went on to work for R. K. General in San Francisco, and the dreaded CBS in Los Angeles. Then in 1974 I decided to go out and start my own company. I was going to produce and distribute documentary kinds of programs.

And the difference was that, prior to my departure from CBS, I was your conventional liberal left-leaning pinko kind of journalist, and I identified with all the liberal causes. I gave them all air time and was basically a promoter of that premise. Then I went into business for myself. And my education began. My education in how it is that wealth is produced and how it is that employment is created and how it is that we get food on our tables was a startling change of philosophy for me. In fact, in fairly short order, I became a right wing kooky business person, but I was still in the journalism business. But journalists for the most part didn't much like me, because I had become an advocate of a concept that they didn't really identify with.

I thought that freedom of speech really belonged to everybody. It doesn't just belong to the folks that they will cover. It really is our right as American citizens to be able to advance our cause. Fortunately, at about that time I met Ronald Reagan, and Ronald Reagan, if you recall this far back, in 1977, 1978, in that period, he was doing a radio series. He was doing a commentary series that he was on five days a week talking about the subjects that he was concerned about, and I was his director. And so I got to know him a bit, and I became very admiring of the guy because he really was who you thought he was. He was exactly that guy. I fortunately was able to participate in the Reagan for President campaign in 1980, but I didn't leave my business. I did not go into the White House, because I knew if I had left my business to go to politics and government, when I came back, my business would be gone and what I had been working for all that time would have dissipated. So I stayed on the outside. I continued to do the production kinds of things that I always enjoyed. In 1982 Lynn Nofsinger came out of the White House. We formed a political communications company.

At the end of the eighties Reagan retired, Nofsinger retired, and I ended up deciding I wanted to change professions and went into real estate development. That is when I found out things that you folks have known for a long time and that is that the government basically can dictate virtually anything that they want to dictate in the use of our land. We don't really own it. We own it in some kind of enforced partnership with some government agency. I have seen those government agencies expand exponentially over the last twenty years in spite of Reagan's success, in spite of the Congress being taken over by Republicans.

So, as I began to hear more and more stories and to see for myself what this regulation really meant, I began to question why it was that we didn't hear about this more from the conventional media, the radio and television business and the newspaper business. Why don't we get a chance to tell our side of this story? And the answer is a little complex. The answer is probably at least fourfold.

First of all, the folks you are dealing with in the journalism business don't own property. Most of them have grown up in the city. They have heard about farms. They may have visited one when they were in the seventh grade, but they don't know anything about the farming and ranching and productive use of the land that people exercise and pursue as private landowners. They may or may not own a house even. So Kelo is kind of meaningless to them personally. They will report the momentary outrage that came about because of the threat to private home ownership, but they don't really know very much about that. Most of them have never really read the Constitution and, if they have read the Constitution, all they know about the Fifth Amendment is that it means that you don't have to incriminate yourself if you are in a criminal trial. They don't really read anything further than that. They don't know anything about property rights. They don't know anything about Takings. We all know about Takings because we have had property taken from us, but they haven't and they don't identify with this story.

I am kind of easing into my topic, which is the Endangered Species Act. The victims of government regulation, the victims of the Endangered Species Act, are not folks who go out and hold demonstrations and rallies and call on the news media to cover their story and raise a big stink. They are farmers, they are ranchers, they are small landowners, small developers. They aren't folks who do anything other than what they do. They can't spend two or three or five million dollars to get to the Supreme Court, especially not, if when they get to the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court says, no we are not going to hear that, as they did in the Texas case with the cave bugs a couple of months ago. Thank God for the Pacific Legal Foundation. If it weren't for Jim's efforts, if they weren't around, for the most part, it would be very, very difficult to get heard in court.

We now have a law that gives power to biologists to determine our Constitutional rights, and the biologists have no scientific necessity of proving their premise. All they have to do is walk out onto your site and say, blue butterflies live here, or whatever. Name a species. There are 2,300 of them that are either endangered or on the list to be considered endangered or threatened, and as a consequence of having no standard and having no ability to take them to task, let alone to court, over the issue of the taking of the rightful use of your land, these folks aren't heard. They don't go to the newspapers, they don't go to the television, and even if they went, their stories wouldn't be told.

So, as I sold off my property and went back to the broadcasting business, I decided [to publicize what is happening]. I did have ten years of pretty good fun in Washington, D.C., watching this process, not as a land owner, not as someone who had any understanding of what was going on the way you folks do, but I do know the political process, and I do know the broadcasting business. So it has been great fun for me to have been able to assemble a team of sympathetic, not necessarily right wing, they are not necessarily particularly conservative folks, but they are at least willing to listen to the story and tell the story of people who have been victims of this process.

We have started a project called VESA, Victims of the Endangered Species Act, and our purpose is basically to tell those stories, to tell the stories of people who have been wiped out. Some really in the cruelest possible way by their own government. And the VESA Project now has an active website. It is called vesa.tv.

The real problem we are having is finding people, number one, who will tell their stories, and finding people, number two, who will trust us not to misrepresent them. Because, if they have talked to reporters in the past, they may have been grossly misrepresented. They may have been misquoted. They just don't trust the liberal conventional media reporter. So we are attempting to give the folks who step forward and let us tell their stories confidence that we are not going to misrepresent them.

First of all, contractually and in writing, we will give them a statement that says that when we have taken your video tape, when we have taken your story and we have edited it down and we have produced it into something that we think tells the story properly, we are going to show it to you first and we are going to get your permission before we go out and use it. Now, conventional journalists don't do that. Conventional journalists will sit you down, they will take whatever you tell them, and they will use it however they want. Frequently it misquotes people. I have been interviewed by many journalists and looked at the story afterwards and said, I didn't say that. Where do they get this stuff? Well, the fact is that all of them want to be Carl Burnstein. They all want to be Woodward. And they all want to be rich and famous and they all want to expose everything they can find and if they can't find it to expose, maybe they create it. In this instance, we are creating nothing.

These stories are significantly serious, sad, and pathetic stories, and they need to be heard. Our office is in Washington, D.C. We are producing all over the country. We started in Klamath Falls because the Klamath Falls story is so compelling.

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