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Solutions regarding federal land buy-outs
by Norman MacLeod, 5/30/04

It's pretty easy to see that, while the Congress in the Other Washington are willing to fund the purchase of more land from private citizen landowners, it does not express (with funding) a similar willingness to provide adequate care for the lands that it already owns.  In Jefferson County, that means about 62% of the land within the county's borders.

I would strongly support a piece of federal legislation that accomplishes:

    • A complete moratorium on the purchase, any form of funding for purchase (including grants to non-profit entities) or consideration for purchase of privately-owned land land until the following conditions are met:
      • The federal government provides payment in lieu of taxes (PILT) at the same rate per acre as citizens residing the the county where the federal land is located are required to pay in annual property taxes for the same use of an acre of land in private ownership.
      • The entire backlog of deferred maintenance on federal lands and the infrastructure included on those lands is fully funded and cleared.
      • Federal lands maintenance baselines are adjusted and perpetually assured to provide levels of stewardship and maintenance required of private landowners for the same classes of land, with particular attention paid to areas of critical habitat.
      • Appropriate access to federally held lands for all citizens of all levels of capability is assured, with particular emphasis on those forms of access and facilities already in place and those in place but sufficiently damaged to force "temporary closure" in recent years.
    • Restoration of visitor programs and facilities in the National Parks, National Monuments, National Forests, and National Recreation Areas to levels enjoyed at their respective times of peak availability, with assurance of full funding going forward.
    • Funding of the National Forest system adequate to assure timberland resistance to catastrophic wildfire to be maintained at levels similar to those of large-scale privately held timberlands.
    • All of the above to be in place and adequately funded for a period of no less than ten years before appropriations leading to the purchase of additional lands by the federal government is allowed.
    • A complete moratorium of the naming of new National Parks, National Monuments, National Forests, or similar entities until the above conditions are met.
    • Immediate withdrawal of land purchase appropriations if and when the above conditions are not met.
    • Provision for sale of federally held lands to fund appropriate levels of federal lands stewardship in years when Congress chooses not to adequately fund operations and management of the totality of federally held lands, or in such cases where the Congress feels it most appropriate to divest the nation of some of its land holdings.
    • Private citizens may continue to donate land into federal ownership voluntarily and without compulsion. 
The federal government is not providing adequate stewardship of the lands it already holds.  Why should it be allowed to acquire more before it can demonstrate the same levels of stewardship that environmental groups expect of private citizen landowners?
If such legislation can be introduced and passed, it will not only provide for the movement away from purchasing still more land the government won't be able or willing to adequately take care of, but it will also provide a breathing/thinking space for what we really need in terms of government land ownership in the future.  While the flexibility to continue purchasing productive land for the purposes of conservation in the near term becomes severely limited, it's cortically important that we, as a nation, own up to our responsibility for what we've already allowed to be placed in federal ownership.  Now that we have collective ownership of so much of the nation's land resources, we have to step up to the plate and accept our responsibility for adequately caring for those lands before we should be allowed to purchase more.

P.S. from a concerned New Zealander: "The government should prohibit itself from purchasing any more land until such time as it has cleared its debt."







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