The U.S. House of Representatives considered the Interior Department appropriations bill in July, and advocates for access to public lands and private property rights won important victories.
Snowmobiles amendment. Reps. Rush Holt (D-New Jersey) and Chris Shays (R-Connecticut) intended to offer an amendment to prohibit snowmobile use in Yellowstone National Park. Seeing they were going to lose the vote by a large margin, they pulled the amendment from consideration. The no vote meant victory for public access.
Roadless amendment. Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Washington) intended to offer an amendment to “codify,” or make into permanent law, the Clinton administration’s roadless regulations, which would severely limit access to public lands and private inholdings. A wave of opposition surfaced from recreationists, concerned citizens, and labor unions. When it was clear the amendment would be defeated, Inslee pulled the amendment off the floor.
Klamath Basin anti-farmer amendment. Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) and Mike Thompson (D-California) called for a vote on an amendment to end the farm leasing program in the Klamath refuge. The leasing program has benefitted both farmers and wildlife by producing food for people and habitat for migrating birds. Anti-farming interests who believe mankind is the enemy sought an end to such efforts, where people work with the environment.
This amendment would have ended the leasing program gradually. At first, it would have affected only 17 families. Supporters of the amendment figured they could easily crush such a small number of people.
They were wrong. Thanks to Reps. Wally Herger (R-California) and Greg Walden (R-Oregon), and grassroots activists all over the country, the amendment was defeated by a narrow vote of 201 in favor to 223 against. Credit for the victory also goes to Reps. Nethercutt, Hastings, and Doolittle, who also spoke effectively against it.
Federal land grabs. The Wildlands Project is a plan to—no joke here, this is completely serious—depopulate up to 70 percent of the land area of the United States and turn it into wilderness. This master plan of the environmental movement’s most extreme elements was dealt a severe blow in July.
Interior Budget Director Lynn Scarlett and Interior Secretary Gale Norton proposed to create something called the Cooperative Conservation Initiative (CCI), fund it at $50 million, and hand over the money to distribute to environmental interests. You know the story—”discover” an endangered species, then give the landowner an “offer he can’t refuse” involving severe restrictions on his use of property.
However, the CCI proposal has been zeroed out in both the House and Senate versions of the Interior Department budget. It has virtually no chance of becoming law. Another victory for property rights.
More land grabs. For landowners in South Florida fighting against the combined power of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Park Service (NPS), July was a good month. The Interior bill was stripped of language that would have allowed the NPS to seize the private property of several hundred families … and pay them less than 10 percent of their land’s value in return.
The bill was also stripped of a provision to give the NPS an equal say with the Corps in how the massive, multibillion dollar Everglades “restoration” project was to be managed. The NPS suffers from a five billion dollar maintenance backlog on its existing properties … yet it continues to attempt to expand its empire.
There was no vote, because both provisions were stripped out of the bill. Thanks to Rep. Jim Hansen (R-Utah), who raised the first point of order defeating the provisions, and to Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), who raised the second point stripping the anti-private property language.
Kudos to the Western Caucus. Thanks also go to the Congressional Western Caucus and its chairman, Rep. Richard Pombo (R-California). Pombo and his Western Caucus members and allies were vitally important in rounding up votes for all of these important victories.
The Interior Department budget did, of course, end up with tens of millions of dollars for more land acquisition and more grants to anti-private property environmental groups. But on many important issues, grassroots activists from all across the country won out, and we should celebrate our victories.
Chuck Cushman is founder and executive director of the American Land Rights Association. More information on these victories and more can be found at the ALRA’s Web site at http://www.landrights.org.