Dr. Dan UpdatesEnvironmentalismPrivate Property Rights

My Response: Never Trust a Conservation Trust!

Dr. Dan EichenbaumOn 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




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  1. This was succinct and great. I sent it to local Tea party members and all the members of the local Board of Commissioners. We are in the process of outing these Agenda 21 types of actions and may establish a property rights council to review recent comp plans pushed into effect by environmentalists who were then voted out. I have a page on Agenda 21 at http://www.tinyurl.com/HaltAgenda21 . I will add a link to your article.

  2. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. Local communities across this nation are fighting the same battle. Your site contains a wealth of A21 resources that I will reference as well!

  3. Thanks for the article and thank you vj for the link. We are battling it here too, ‘treasured landscapes’ are being created and the land is being put into conservation trusts. I found a guide for public officials at a site: http://www.stewardsofthesequoia.com It was listed on their Wildlands Project page. Also, I highly recommend the book by Brian Sussman called Eco Tyranny. Keep up the good work, Dr. Dan!

  4. I’m 100% with you. I know all about Agenda 21, Strong, Sustainable America, smart growth, livable communities initiative, blah blah blah. We are fighting for our autonomy here in Transylvania County and hoping our county commissioners will vote to refuse to do business any more with Land of Sky Regional Council and Gro WNC. Who knows what NGO will come along later. We are fighting the good fight. Could sure use your help.

  5. I disagree with this entire article! The writer does not know what he is talking about as his four points he says others use in defense of land conservation make no sense as long as we are talking about a landowner who WILLINGLY enters into a conservation trust for his or her own personal reasons. Now the government coming and taking land to preserve plant or animal species is an entirely different matter to which I would strenuously object. Land put into a conservation trust is not “devoid of human life and activity”. Absolutely not! Conservation Trust lands are used and enjoyed by their owners and their views are enjoyed by all those around them and on them. Every piece of land that I have known to be put into a CT has allowed the owners to continue to live on and use the land within simple guidelines that the landowner agrees to beforehand. There are no surprises later. People may put their lands into a CT to secure tax breaks, but again, everyone that I know who has done this has done it to secure the lands in their current beautiful and undeveloped state for future generations because they believe in preserving the beauty they have enjoyed for others who will come behind them. During the most recent time of the great real estate boom those of you who live in our most stunning mountain areas have benefitted in that there are those who work tirelessly to offer landowners ways to preserve and keep what you treasure most about this area…our mountains and valley views.

  6. Like all Republican communications it is filled with partial truths to catch the reader and then leads to distortions. Some day the public will catch up to the lies and deceptions propagated by the Greedy Old Party. Too bad, the GOP was once the loyal opposition who could be counted on for fair arguement rather than obstruction and blaming the administration for failure. Shame. Sold your souls.

    James Harrison

  7. James – I am an activist for limited, constitutional government and not the Republican Party. We are faced with real issues every single day that affect every single citizen in this nation. These are American challenges . . . not Republican or Democrat.

  8. These conservation trusts are often funded with taxpayer dollars (public/private partnerships). For example, in Cherokee County the Wood Farm (a privately owned family farm) entered into a voluntary conservation agreement. A taxpayer funded grant from the Scenic Byways Program, however, helped to purchased the land. Public/private partnerships using taxpayer dollars are unconstitutional and no different than sinking taxpayer money into any other privately owned company or venture.

  9. The farther I got into your article the more I was half anticipating the outcome to be one of………and our government lands are becoming

    Speaking of obscene predicaments may I recommend to all………

  10. The “assumption” that most of these so called conservationist make is that man is not part of the environment. We are as “natural” as any bear, deer or rabbit. Again, as stated, the common sense us of the environment should be encouraged, not discouaged.

  11. The conservation trusts I am familiar with have been formed to prevent development of beautiful mountain lands in western North Carolina. Without these trusts, the land would soon become one residential development after another. The natural beauty of the mountains would be lost forever. I agree with James Harrison. You have sold your souls.

  12. I am a libertarian and am always wary of the government. But I disagree with a lot of this article. In the first line it says “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.” Actually most of the land was stolen from the rightful owners, the native Americans. And I believe that most of them would have no problem having land set aside for the preservation of as many plants and animals as possible.
    They understand the cycle of life and the food chain.

  13. Daniel – I agree that each of us, as individuals, must absolutely be good stewards of the Earth.

  14. You should see what the army corps of engineers has done to the Appalachia river basin with their dredging to help Martin Marietta run their barges. I disagree that land and water have no value until they are “used”. As the wetlands are destroyed, the fish and crabs that spawn here die off and the tupelo trees fall. Let’s not forget that the same God that made you and me also made all of Creation. We must respect all life if we have any respect for our own species. Sincerely

  15. You clearly hold strong opinions on this subject, but as a landowner who placed the family farm into a land trust, I would like to present an opposing viewpoint. Not all land in a land trust is “locked away”. Our 50 acre farm hosts over 10,000 visitors a year with our thriving agri-tourism business. Because of it’s status in a land trust, when the farm was apprised for taxes at my father’s death, we owed no taxes. It would have been approx. 2million without the land trust status. We would have been forced to sell off half of the farm just to pay the taxes. This is a whole different issue.
    Anyway, just wanted you to know that not all land in a trust, is ” forever wild”. There are 2 other properties in my county that have donated easements into land trusts as well. It is a way to protect your family heritage.

  16. Years ago I worked as a real estate manager for Palm Beach County. The voters there approved a multi-million bond program to buy farmland to prevent its development into housing or commercial uses. In some cases the County purchased conservation easements from landowner farmers. This allowed continued farm use, and prevented development. Purchasing easements stretched the funds available. Was the program a good idea? My opinion today is that the benefits were less than the cost, but the voters spoke and they paid the cost of the bonds.

  17. Dr. Dan,
    You sure brought the liberals out from underneath their rocks on this one.
    The truth always does.
    Thanks for the article.

  18. I agree with many of the comments about being good stewards of our land, but we must recognize that the land and water grab is intentional and looks good up front, but we must realize that this IS the goal of Agenda 21–to destroy our property rights. If someone has a farm and wants to keep it that way during their lifetime, they do not need to have a conservation trust to do so–and particularly one that goes on forever. Has anyone ever answered the question, what becomes of the property and who will own the property several generations down the line (perhaps in only one generation). I suspect that it will become an asset of the government since Federal, State and Local governments are the ones funding these conservation easements (at taxpayer expense I might add). I repeat, it may look good now (with tax incentives IF one qualifies for them) but one needs to focus on what takes place in the future. There are other avenues available to pass farm property down through the generations without getting the government involved. Do not be foolish and identify this as a party issue–this is a nonpartisan issue that we should all be aware of and educate ourselves about.

  19. After reading Dr. Dan’s article, I feel compelled to offer comments in opposition to the Dr.’s.

    I’ve worked with land trusts for 25 years and have owned tracts with forests on them for almost 20 years. I have protected my woodland tracts with conservation easements. A conservation easement held by a local land trust, the Sandhills Area Land Trust, protects the land I own near Drowning Creek – the drinking water source for the town I live in, Southern Pines, NC.

    As a lawyer I’ve helped scores of landowners exercise their private property rights by protecting hundreds of acres of their land with conservation easements. In nearly all cases the land remains available for agricultural or silvicultural use. In one instance a landowner client was able to prevent Progress Energy from condemning a path for an unnecessary and duplicative power line across his conservation easement protected property, because of the conservation easement.

    North Carolina comes very close to leading the nation in farm and forest acreage lost annually to development. This loss of farm and forest acreage threatens many things, not the least of which are our citizens’ ability to hunt, fish and exercise their second amendment rights. Land trusts and conservation easements number among the most important tools we have to reduce these irretrievable losses of farms and forests.

    President Abraham Lincoln once said “Laws Change; people die; the land remains.” Shouldn’t private property owners have the right to protect what they own of this valuable resource, when they choose to do so?

  20. Thank you Dr. Dan! Agenda 21 is something that keeps coming up for discussion here in south GA as well. Thank you to Angie for clarifying and to VJ for the link. Let’s remember that if it “sounds too good to be true”, then it is and the used car salesman never tells you it’s a lemon (no offense to any used car salesmen). Keep up the good work.

  21. What is even worse than the government forcing someone to sell a conservation trust or easement is when they force you to GIVE them one- and pay for the “privilege”. This is what the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) did to my family and me.

    We have owned 2/3 mile of Great Lakes waterfront land for nearly 80 years, without ever doing anything to it. Over the past decade we decided we would divide it into large building lots and sell it, but first we needed to put in a drive to access all of the property. When we applied for permits we were continually forced to spend $thousands on one test or study after another. If a particular study didn’t come out the way the govt. wanted it to, they forced us to pay for another one- all of which were more restrictive than the last. We finally had to file suit against the State of Mighigan for a “taking”, where they were prohibiting us from using our property. At one point two members of the state DEQ (Dept. Environmental Quality) defied a judge’s order to grant us a permit, then 3 weeks later took their state retirement and approached our realtor saying that they were now consultants and for $100/hr fee they thought they could get us our permit. We ultimately had to continue with the lawsuit and the state, knowing they could not win, deliberately did everything they could to stall and run up our legal bills. Then 2 days before our case was to go to trial they called our attorney and said they had agreed to grant the permit- with requirements and retrictions.

    But that wasn’t enough. We also had to get a permit from the USACE. While they had never done so to anyone else before, they decided that we had to GIVE them one of the 6-figure building lots as a conservation easement. But since they had never required one before they had no ability to accept the easement, so they told us we had to pay an organization to take the easement and then also pay to have it surveyed, marked, and maintained for years to come. This was the extortion they used to be able to approve our permit request. Now keep in mind that we weren’t trying to build high-rise condos or anything. We were just wanting to put in a DRIVE to access our property! Ultimately, the permits were never obtained and the driveway never put in because we ran out of money- which was their intent from the beginning. When we were forced to sell a lot to pay for legal and engineering expenses, the govt. was standing there with their hand out for capital gains taxes, despite the fact that all we ever did was pay money out and never took in a single dime! In the meantime, my uncle, a retired engineer who had been leading our project, died while trying to get the drive approved. He was an honorable man who never would have dreamed of breaking the rules and that perhaps was his problem because we were dealing with immoral, crooked, and self-seeking bureaucrats who got their jollies off of seeing how much trouble and expense they could cause us. May all such govt. bureaucrats BURN IN HELL!!!!!!!

  22. Writing my previous post has brought up bad memories and anger that I hadn’t felt since we finally abandoned the project. That property should be worth well over $1 million and was to be my retirement, but because of this crooked worthless government it has been nothing but a money pit. Now, thanks to Uncle “Steal Your Land” Sam, I will have to work until the day I drop dead.

  23. The confusion here is perception and language. The confusion is caused by a change of paradigm through the use of dialectic. You know this “dialectic” colloquially as the Overton Window. This occurs when “they” move the goalpost and hijack the vocabulary.

    The issue is whether or not a conservation trust is part of an overarching COMMUNIST system meant to steal all private property. Honestly, it’s hard to make the case. I am a staunch anticommunist, and I have engaged in bringing awareness of Agenda 21 to our WNC area, but a conservation trust which is perpetuated by a private person is his or her own business, even if the property is bequeathed to the government.

    The problem arises, however, when the government, in its quest to enlarge itself, uses a term like “conservation trust” to allay fears that its land-grabbing is perfectly acceptable when it is not. In other words, the problem arises when the government LIES.

    If you want to see the REAL land grab, do a search through Presidential Executive Orders, and you will see that private property in the United States has already been sequestered on a massive scale, much of it in the name of “conservation” (but also national defense interest).

    I agree with the poster who qualified that most private property has a squalid history, not only in America, but worldwide. Even so, the solution is NOT Van Jones’ “Give them the wealth, give them the respect.” That is just another dialectic.

  24. Friends:

    A close friend read this article and forwarded it to me. My family and I are currently embroiled in a dispute with our county government, environmental protection division. We have 73 acres of land and want to build a home. The county will not grant us a building permit unless we sign a deed restrictiuon creating a conservation easement – in perpetuity-on 30 acres. That’s almost half our land. Our homesite is not within the area they want. They are simply using the building permit to extort our land rights. This is unconscionable. You don’t realize what is happening in America until it actually impacts your own family. I am as guilty as anyone else. Now all I can think to do is tell others what is happening and hope that they listen. Please continue to do the same.

  25. Firstly, land conservation is a destructive distraction from vastly more effective environmental funding as per my website.
    Secondly, I opposing any leasing of government land as leasing encourages rapid exploitation. If government land or mineral rights are sold in purpetuity and never leased, then they can be hoarded for centuries by the private buyers before being drilled or mined at huge potential profit. This is not possible with leases that expire over time. The suppression of long term private hoarding is why government land needs to be SOLD and not leased.

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