CARA Is Bad News for Private Property Rights

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In the Arena, by Rich Jefferson: CARA Is Bad News for Private Property Rights

No person shall…be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.

Fifth Amendment
U.S. Constitution

Private property rights are protected by the Constitution. They are vital to everyone who espouses a “wise use” philosophy of natural resources.

But private property rights are an enemy of those who believe that big government knows what’s best for you and your children. That’s why environmental groups continually strive to weaken private property rights and our cultural commitment to them.

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If you value private property rights, and you should, you need to know about the Conservation and Reinvestment Act Congress (CARA), HR-701 and S-25. CARA is a land acquisition trust fund. Property rights may still theoretically exist if Congress passes CARA, but the practical value of those rights will suffer such a serious blow that we might wonder what became of them.

Private property rights actually consist of a bundle of rights. As the Declaration of Independence argues, the right to own property is an unalienable or God-given right. On a philosophical plane, the right to own property exists even when the government and its allies in the green movement say it does not.

Practically, however, property rights disappear if they cannot be upheld in the face of a government that abuses them. That partly explains the importance of the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment, which introduced this column. Are your rights enforceable in a court of law when environmentalists seek control of your property for the purpose of protecting some species? Although the lefties will tell you personal liberty can exist without property rights, they are dead wrong. Liberty to dispose of your property at least in some measure as you see fit is what liberty is all about.

Consider Brandt Child, a man with a partial disability who moved to Kanab, Utah, a few years ago. He bought several hundred acres and started building a resort around three ponds on his land. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service claimed the ponds were home to the endangered Kanab Ambersnail. The government told Child: “You may own (the property) and you may pay taxes on it, but we control it.”

Control is the key issue. “Endangered” snails are just an excuse for commanding, controlling and abusing property owners. Thanks to a federal agency trampling on the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution, Brandt Child effectively had no private property rights. He might as well as have been renting the property instead of making mortgage payments.

If CARA passes, you won’t even have the worries of Brandt Child because the federales will own most of the country anyway. And to think that one of CARA’s two chief sponsors is a “conservative” Republican, Rep. Don Young of Alaska.

Depending on whose statistics you use, the federal government already owns 50 percent of the land in the U.S. But when your business is acquisitions, that’s just not enough.

CARA originally would have provided $900 million annually to a trust fund with the main purpose of buying private land from “willing sellers.” That’s right: “We’re from the government. We’re here to buy, er, ah, help.” In case you’re wondering, that means buying at governmentally-depressed, below market prices. When the government moves in to condemn your land, no one else will want to buy it anyway. But you will be a “willing seller.”

Do you have property in an important “viewshed,” or do you have endangered snails on your land? Not only will government agents stop the activities you had planned, as they did with Brandt Child, they will make you sell to them at prices that suit them.

The feds only get half the money. State agencies will get the rest, but don’t take any comfort in that. I worked in state government for four years, and I can tell you that the purpose of state government is not to promote liberty, responsibility and property rights. If state natural resources agencies that can exercise eminent domain and condemn land are given a load of money for buying land, Katie, bar the door.

With CARA’s provisions to acquire historic properties as well as snail habitat, one can only imagine what would happen in Eastern cities with structures more than a century old.

Years ago, a similar bill, misleadingly called the American Heritage Trust Act threatened us with the same things CARA does. As Mike Hardiman, the Washington, D.C., representative of the American Land Rights Association points out, the American Heritage Trust Act was defeated partly because congressional budget and appropriations committees finally saw that the act took money out of the appropriations process and gave it to a trust fund — just as CARA does. Trust fund administrators are not elected — and therefore are not accountable — yet they would make decisions about spending several billion dollars a year for buying land. Members of Congress who sit on budget committees most certainly are accountable to the people who elected them, and delegating big bucks to an untrustworthy trust fund could cost them their seat. Hardiman says other things helped defeat the American Heritage Trust: the anger and outcry of property owners and the greed of the bill’s sponsors. Property owners need to raise the hue and cry against CARA.

The “pork” being tacked onto CARA already is causing the trust fund projections to grow wildly. CARA originated as $1.4 billion trust fund. In the House natural resources committee it rose to $3 billion per year, and that’s only one committee. By the time the rest of the House and the Senate glimpse these pork futures, we could be talking about real money while losing more real property to government control.