Special thanks to
STEALING PRIVATE PROPERTY
WITH PUBLIC DOLLARS
By Cheryl K. Chumley
March 17, 2004
when you thought you had a handle on the maneuvers of
environmentalists and the politicians who pander to
these anti-private property activists, now comes a new
stealth measure aimed at taking even more of your land.
Presented as a friendly partnership plan
for necessary preservation of clean drinking water
reservoirs, wildlife habitat, and endangered species,
the Highlands Conservation Act (H.R. 1964) is actually a
carefully crafted, multi-layered, insidious hoax that
spits on the Constitution and in the faces of
freedom-seeking Americans nationwide.
unchecked, this $100 million-plus bill or its companion
Senate version, S. 999 that’s even worse, it will become
the steppingstone for greater power to the Greens.
it works is this: Governors in Connecticut,
Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey identify which
lands in the two million acre Highlands region should be
taken from private control and placed under government
jurisdiction. The Secretaries of the Interior and
Agriculture Departments pass along these targeted land
grab suggestions to members of Congress. They in turn
give their stamp of approval on funding the so-called
necessary conservation actions with 50% matching federal
dollars, up to $10 million annually from 2005-2014 with
general Treasury or Land and Water Conservation Fund
the new and supposed friendly partnership aspect of the
bill; that the federal land bureaucracies assume the
more humble role of financial provider while leaving the
“non-federal” entities (also known as non-governmental
organizations or NGOs; all with political agendas) in
charge of identifying which properties to purchase and
manage. Comparatively meeker to past land management
measures as this federal involvement may sound, deeper
analysis reveals several hidden agendas at play.
think, for instance, that the governors of these four
States, when faced with the tempting opportunity to
receive millions of taxpayer dollars, will show
restraint when it comes to identifying land parcels for
preservation? The nature of the political beast says no:
The history of these four states’ involvement with H.R.
1964 proves otherwise, too.
Connecticut and Pennsylvania, while listed in the bill
as Highlands states, were never formally included in the
USDA Forest Service’s official land assessment studies
conducted in 1992 and 2002.
these two states were added to H.R. 1964 stems primarily
from the findings of their own open space and green
plans which, happily for all involved, coincided with
the Forest Service’s 2002 formal findings that
“long-term sustainability” of the Highlands depends upon
the ability of land management efforts to “span local
and even state political boundaries.” Research indicates
a wide range of environmental groups, from the Sierra
Club to the Highlands Coalition, had a heavy hand in
helping Connecticut and Pennsylvania politicians develop
these land use plans that were added to the Forest
Service studies cited in this bill as evidence of the
region’s “national significance.”
if politicians in Maryland and Vermont decide they want
a piece of the federal money pie, too? The Highlands
region is already mapped as a connecting corridor of
land, Wildlands Project style, that extends from eastern
Pennsylvania through New Jersey and New York to
northwestern Connecticut, adjacent to 15 parcels of
federally protected property. It wouldn’t take much
effort on the part of environmentalists to convince
Congress of the “nationally significant” need to extend
the lines of land acquisition a bit further to offer
Vermont and Maryland similar partnership perks as
awarded the four states in H.R. 1964.
friendly Forest Service certainly won’t oppose extension
of “non-federal” or NGO control of Highlands property.
While the bill maintains this agency will only assume an
advisory role to “local government, individual
landowners, and private organizations in identifying”
lands for conservation, and grants an extra $1 million
each year to cover the costs of these duties, the Forest
Service’s own 2002 study offers a different
understanding of its authority.
Forest Service ought to “continue (its) leadership role
in land management in the Highlands and in implementing
these strategies” by “modifying or creating authority
and processes necessary for governance and decision
making,” the agency’s “New York-New Jersey Highlands
Regional Study: 2002 Update” states.
sounds a bit like a plan for ultimate Forest Service
control of the Highlands area. And with H.R. 1964
granting the agency the right to “undertake other
studies and research as appropriate,” it also sounds a
bit like the doors opening to land acquisitions and
government management in other states, regardless of the
bill’s so-called guarantee of private property
protections and non-federal authority.
“So-called” is the key phrase here: The private property
protection section of the bill says appropriations
“shall be used to purchase lands or interests in lands
only from willing sellers.” Sounds non-threatening
enough, right? But unfortunately, the entire notion of
the willing seller is a joke.
large, property owners do not understand the intense
pressure well-funded conservation groups create on local
politicians to acquire land or the complex maze of
collaborations and partnerships the NGOs form to achieve
small parcels here, winning over a few landowners there,
these radical conservationists slowly increase the
amount of acreage off limits for human use. The
landowners who hesitate or refuse to sell become
surrounded by these public properties and find the
restrictions placed on the managed lands now trickle
onto their boundaries. They often lose water rights,
access road use, and development rights. In effect,
these non-willing sellers lose control of their lands.
result, their land loses value and they decide to sell.
They become the “willing sellers.”
living adjacent to the managed property areas,
meanwhile, suffer enormous tax hikes and cost-of-living
increases. As private property converts to public
property, local tax bases shrink. The government must
recoup this revenue somewhere; remaining residents pay
in the form of higher taxes and new fees.
1964 will continue this decimation of local communities
because it allows the federal government to be used as a
bank for financing the political agendas of private
the language in the bill’s private property section will
not prevent this destruction of local communities and
Constitutional private property protections from
occurring. Even if language were tightened to the point
of providing security that locals really would control
the future of Highlands property, history indicates
private property owners and advocates would still emerge
from the bill’s passage as the tossed-aside underdogs.
a 15,800-acre privately owned tract of land within
commuting distance of New York City called Sterling
Forest was targeted for preservation after
environmentalists learned developers were planning to
build 13,000 new homes for an estimated 35,000 potential
residents. An organization called the Palisades
Interstate Park Commission took the lead in rallying for
purchase and public management of these lands, forming
coalitions with other local and state environmentalists.
These included known Wildlands Project supporters like
the Audubon Society to take their arguments to Congress.
resulted was a partnership between the federal
government and state NGOs, where the former gave money
so that the latter could purchase and control land.
familiar? The Sterling Forest deal, which ultimately
encompassed about 17,000 acres and – coincidentally
again – connects Highlands property targeted in H.R.
1964, is also the model for this bill. The déjà vu
continues: H.R. 1964 specifies the Palisade Interstate
Park Commission as a “non-federal” entity “with
authority to own and manage land for conservation
experience would indicate this is one non-federal group
that wouldn’t hesitate to spread its management
authority further throughout Highlands region lands, the
majority of which is currently privately owned.
To maintain that private ownership,
perhaps Senate supporters like Sens. Rick Santorum,
Arlen Specter, Ron Wyden and Larry Craig could take an
uncharacteristically nonpolitical step and insert
logical language in the bill, before Senate Public Lands
and Forests subcommittee members approve it unchallenged
during a scheduled March 24 hearing.
a line could be added to this effect: “County
governments shall maintain final authority to veto any
land proposal stemming from this bill.” That ought to
stop the droolings of cash-strapped state politicians
and land-hungry environmental radicals for a while, at
fundamental concept of private property, the keystone of
our economy, would be better served if the entire
measure were scrapped. That would abolish any chance the
politicians and radical Greenies have of realizing its
Otherwise, we Americans are facing the dire consequences
of Wildlands Project goals to lock out 50% of each
state’s lands from human use. It is our tax dollars that
are assisting current Wildlands Project efforts to take
land from Maine to Tennessee from the private sector.
And we’re helping to realize the Wildlands Project dream
of grabbing an enormous, connected swath of eastern U.S.
land and placing it off limits to all forms of human
residence and productive use forever.
1964 sits squarely on the backs of the American
taxpayer, who could be required to fund these Wildlands
Project practices for decades because of a bill that
does not even bother to stipulate whether Congress will
stop its land grab funding past the 2014 deadline.
© 2004 Cheryl Chumley - All Rights Reserved