On September 12, 2012, the Freedom Forum published an article written by Hugh Williamson entitled “Never Trust a Conservation Trust”. Mr. Williamson, a retired college professor, expressed his opinions about government infringement on private property rights through the use of conservation trusts and easements.
I am delighted that the controversial nature of his views provoked extensive discussion on both sides of this issue. Even better, the commentary was, for the most part, insightful, well-written, and informative. I firmly support Mr. Williamson’s right to put forward ideas that may not find universal acceptance, and I hope you do as well.
The Freedom Forum’s crusade is to fight vigorously for the preservation of property rights. The right to own private property that cannot be arbitrarily confiscated by the government is the moral and constitutional basis for individual freedom.
After reading the commentary to this post, following are my own thoughts on this issue.
- We must be good stewards of the earth and maintain clean water and breathable air, but we cannot submit to unreasonably strict environmental regulations based on junk science that prevent finding and procuring adequate energy to support the needs of mankind. If you still believe that human activity and carbon dioxide are responsible for climate change, please visit Petition Project.
- The extinction of animal and plant species is a normal part of the cycle of nature. It is logical to attempt to protect species from extinction, using “reasonable” measures, that do not impact human safety.
- It is completely within the rights of a private landowner to voluntarily donate his land to a private charitable conservation trust that has no government funding.
- The Constitution allows the Federal Government to purchase land with the agreement of the state in which the land lays for post offices, post roads, military installations, government buildings, and ten square miles for a capital (Washington, DC). In my opinion, the purchase of private land by the Federal Government for any other purpose (such as a conservation trust) violates those provisions in the Constitution. That constitutional prohibition would include purchase of land by government funds used directly, money granted to a non-profit trust, or by any tax abatement schemes. Depending on constitutional law of a state, however, it might be permissible for a state to purchase land for a conservation easement as long as it doesn’t do so with federal money.
- The government is using abatement of estate taxes as a means to limit and restrict private ownership of land on a prospective basis. “In Perpetuity” is a very long time. If you place land in a conservation trust to avoid paying taxes and then continue to live on the land, use it as you please, and even profit from its use, are you not stealing money from your fellow taxpayers? I am against the estate tax, but that’s another story.
- Conservation easements and trusts often (but not always) limit human access to the conserved land by regulations that forbid specific uses like horses, ATVs, fishing, hunting, swimming, etc. If public money is used to purchase land, every citizen of that state should be allowed to use the land for any recreational activity with reasonable safety rules.
- I am against placing restrictions on private land to protect the scenic beauty of the mountains, to prevent development, and to maintain lake and mountain viewsheds for those who don’t own the land. Those regulations arbitrarily steal property rights from the land’s rightful owners by limiting their ability to use and enjoy their own land as they wish. We do not have the right to place restrictions on another person’s private property, especially, when we suffer no direct harm.
Remember, it all depends on whose ox is gored. Your personal freedom stops at my nose. Many who want to protect views for personal enjoyment, live in homes that “ruin” the view others would consider worth protecting for their enjoyment. Would you move to satisfy their desires? The Golden Rule definitely applies.
By: Hugh Williamson
Every square mile, indeed every square foot, of the land and water area of the 50 states of this nation is either the private property of individuals or organizations which have legally acquired it, or it is the property of all of the legal citizens of the United States as a whole – - –it is public land.
Time and time again our governing document, the Constitution of the United States, refers to and affirms the right of the legal owners of private property to be secure in the ownership and the use of that property in whatever ways they choose, whether it is personal property such as cars and furniture or real property such as houses and land.
This country has incredibly vast and rich natural resources, and they are here for the use and enjoyment of the American people. They are here for residential, business, agricultural, recreational, and any and all other uses that private individuals or organizations choose to legally acquire and use them for.
There is no value or merit whatsoever in having any land or water of this nation “locked away” from the use of human beings. There is absolutely no valid reason at all to have any land or water placed into any kind of trust or conservation area or conservancy in such a way as to legally forbid all human use of that land or water in the future, to have it locked away from all human usage “in perpetuity.”
None the less, some people and organizations try to do exactly this. They try to persuade both private land owners such as farmers and ranchers, and government landowners such as towns, counties and states, to voluntarily sign away, to voluntarily legally give up, their rights to use, to even set foot upon, their own legally owned land and water. These landowners are sometimes offered inducements such as reduced property taxes or monetary help in reforesting the land or in making other such “improvements” in order to “return the land and water to its original, natural state.”
The individuals and organizations that try to persuade landowners to do this do not emphasize the fact that yes, the land and water may be returned to or kept in some kind of original condition, but that no human being will ever be allowed to touch, see, or in any way go near that land and water ever, ever again—except, of course, the people who manage the trust themselves. They will carefully reserve their right to go onto the land for “administrative purposes.”
I ask the question, “What possible use or value can any land or water have when it is entirely devoid of human life and activity?” I have heard four attempted answers to the question.
1) “It’s natural land” (whatever that may mean) – - – Yes, and so is a coal deposit or a lake of asphalt: They are natural, that is, untouched by humans. But this doesn’t mean that these things should remain untouched by human beings forever and ever to preserve their “naturalism.” Coal and asphalt, exactly like land and water, are of absolutely no value until they are used.
2) “If we lock land and water wholly away from human usage, we can preserve all the forms of plant and animal life now living in that area, and be sure we do not cause the extinction of any species of anything.”— First, this statement is not true. Species, like individual plants and animals, have natural life cycles. They come and they go, whether people are or are not involved with their habitat. Second, of what value is the preservation of some sub-species of clam or snail or moss or lichen? These things are exactly that; they are things, not creatures with feelings or emotions. There is, therefore, absolutely no reason at all to preserve them for their own sake, because they do not think or feel: They have no own sake. They are things, not sentient creatures. To preserve a strain of bacteria for its own sake is exactly the same as preserving a mud puddle for its own sake. Neither the bacterium nor the mud puddle knows or cares whether or not it is “preserved.”
3) “We cannot be sure that some plant or other life form which might be driven to extinction by some kind of human activity today might not be of great use to mankind in the future by providing some valuable chemical or other substance.”—This may be true, although this kind of thing happens only rarely. More importantly, however, if these areas are wholly and entirely locked away from all human access, we will never be able to collect and analyze these organisms to determine whether they indeed do have any human value or not.
4) “As we travel back and forth from populated city areas to rural areas, we waste gasoline and we often kill innocent animals such as rabbits and squirrels.”—When the people who want to lock away more and more of the nation’s land run out of arguments that have any on-the-surface appearance of truth at all, they become somewhat desperate and begin to say silly things such as this. Yes of course, when we travel in this way we do burn gasoline and we do occasionally injure or kill wildlife—and when we drive the billions of miles that we drive each year in New York City and Los Angeles and Miami and Chicago etc., we burn untold amounts of gasoline and we often kill wandering dogs and cats and homeless human beings in addition to rabbits and squirrels. So long as we as a society choose to travel in rapidly moving vehicles with internal combustion engines, these things will happen.
No, there are no objective, practical reasons for taking any land or water away forever from all possible types of human use by putting it into irrevocable trusts which lock it away from any human activity. Why then, do some people want to do this?
I believe that they want to do it simply because it makes them feel good. It makes them feel good when they go to bed in their large, comfortable houses heated or cooled by fossil fuels. It makes them feel good when they get up the next morning to drive their inefficiently fossil-fueled vehicles from that house in Sausalito, California, across the traffic-clogged Golden Gate Bridge to their large, fossil-fuel-heated or cooled offices in downtown San Francisco. And so on throughout the country.
It makes them feel good to know that although they freely pollute the land and water in the areas where they choose to live and work, that they have helped take away all human land and water usage in areas where other people want to live and work. It makes them feel virtuous to have done this, and thus to have, “saved the planet.”
I am not arguing in this essay for the abuse of any of our land, our water, or our wildlife. I am arguing for its reasonable and productive use. I am not arguing that so much wildlife habitat should be converted to agricultural or industrial use that animal species such as deer and bear, or rabbits and squirrels, or even wolves and coyotes, are threatened with extinction.
But this country already has millions upon millions of acres of land that are set aside for this purpose, the survival of these animals. And it has uncounted numbers of acres set aside for the survival of various species of birds and trees and plants, and lake-shore and underwater national parks to insure the survival of hundreds of species of fish and other forms of water life. We don’t need to restrict human activity on any more land! Enough is enough!
Conversely, we need to work to determine how much and in what ways we can de-strict land that is currently re-stricted; how we can bring it back into productive and recreational use for the American people who own it and deserve to be able to use it to the maximum possible extent. For example, we need to re-open and strongly encourage homesteading programs on government-owned land, the transfer of that land to the ownership of people who want to live on it and use it.
We need to greatly increase the issuance of timber harvesting, livestock grazing and oil and natural gas drilling permits on now-closed government land suitable for these purposes. We need to immediately begin to build many new oil refineries and nuclear energy plants. These are proven, dependable sources of the plentiful and inexpensive energy the American people want in order to continue their accustomed and desired lifestyle. We need to aggressively use our land for the enrichment and enjoyment of our people, not lock it away from them