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Opinion: Federal government selling land it promised to 'protect'

 February 2, 2005

By Emma T. Suarez

Prospects don't look good for Prospect Island.

The island, located in the Sacramento- San Joaquin Delta, used to be thriving farmland, offering homes for the tricolored blackbird, giant garter snake, great blue heron and other wildlife while producing high-quality California rice.

Today, a 1,300-acre portion of the island symbolizes a government farmland-conversion program that has gone terribly wrong--one that has cost taxpayers millions of dollars on a project supposedly designed to "protect" the land forever.

Now, part of Prospect Island is for sale.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is asking permission from Congress to sell the land it owns on Prospect Island--a place it claimed would be "protected" in order to provide habitat for numerous fish and wildlife species listed under the federal Endangered Species Act. There were big, and costly, dreams for it. It was going to be the home of the Prospect Island Restoration Project. Under the operation of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the island would be a key component in the creation of the proposed North Delta Refuge Unit.

There was one huge problem. The government didn't anticipate all the work that needed to be done to maintain the property. Now, in ill repair and under illogical and expensive government management, the island's future is in doubt. And there will be large question marks for neighboring farmers who have had to live next door to an absentee landlord for more than a decade and whose own farms may be harmed by the government's mismanagement.

Also in peril: taxpayers' pocketbooks. Government agencies known collectively as the Cal-Fed Bay-Delta Program will soon ask the state Legislature to impose fees on water users (you and me) and for voters to approve new bonds to pay for conversion of more farmland to "restoration" projects. Ironically, at the same time, the Bureau of Reclamation will be asking Congress for the go-ahead to put up the "For Sale" signs on Prospect Island.

There is further irony in the Prospect Island story. Cal-Fed--a government experiment that has focused on retiring thousands of acres of productive farmland in a misguided quest for habitat restoration--intended the island to be a showcase for its farmland-conversion plans. It's a showcase all right, but not for the reasons Cal-Fed intended.

It's time for the public to realize that the state's farmers and ranchers do a better job of providing wildlife habitat and contributing to the delta's restoration than federal bureaucrats. We've been stewards of our lands for generations and depend on it for our very existence. Farmers understand what it takes to make sure that the land entrusted to our care is properly maintained and not a burden to our neighbors.

Throwing away more millions of dollars on government programs in the belief that Cal-Fed can do a better job at land management just won't work. It's simply a fantasy.

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item. (Top)

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