CARA double-talk prevails

Published October 1, 2001

Montana’s new Congressman, Denny Rehberg, recently faced a tough vote. He had to choose between fulfilling campaign promises or fitting in with the dominant culture in Washington, DC: the liberal elite big-government crowd.

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Instead of standing up and fighting for Montana, Rehberg chose the easy way out. He voted in favor of a 15-year trust fund that hands over $3 billion, guaranteed every year, to the liberal elite big-government crowd. And now he is trying to double-talk his constituents into believing he is actually helping them.

The legislation Rehberg voted for is called CARA, the Conservation and Reinvestment Act. However, CARA has been nicknamed the Condemnation and Relocation Act, since it includes over one billion dollars per year for state and federal land acquisition agents to condemn private property.

And that’s not all. There is also millions in grant money–guaranteed each year if CARA were to become law–for every left-wing environmentalist outfit around, all in the name of “conservation.” Here are a few of the most prominent organizations supporting the CARA Land Grab:

  • Defenders of Wildlife–Their top priority for many years has been wolf reintroduction into traditional ranching areas.
  • The Wilderness Society–They advocate locking up public lands into wilderness and prohibiting commercial and nearly all recreational access.
  • Americans for Heritage and Recreation–Their Guiding Principles “adamantly oppose any restrictions” on land acquisition, “especially those that require new authorizations or prevent condemnation.”

Spinning constituents

Now, here comes the double-talk.

In a letter to constituents attempting to justify his vote for CARA, Rehberg claims, “CARA will add key private property rights protections not found in current law.”

It is true there are improved provisions in one small part of CARA that require public notification before a land grab, and a clause that requires agencies to inventory lands in Montana before proceeding with acquisition.

But here’s the rest of the story: Those weak “protections” apply to only one-seventh of the bill! Only one dollar of every seven in CARA is covered by these so-called protections.

Renee Daniels-Mantle, a rancher who testified in Congress against CARA, called them “decoration.” And Senator Don Nickles of Oklahoma, who fought against the bill alongside Montana’s Conrad Burns, referred to them as “just a head fake.”

Rehberg claims “CARA funds fully the PILT [payment in lieu of taxes] program, designed to compensate counties for lost tax revenue due to federal land ownership.” This is true, but there’s a twist. CARA provides over three times more funding for land acquisition than it does for PILT! If CARA becomes law, the erosion of the tax base in rural areas will accelerate. PILT money will not come close to keeping up with the loss of property tax revenue and decline in economic activity as land is taken over by the government.

Sportsmen oppose CARA

Rehberg claims “CARA enhances opportunities for sportsmen by helping to provide a comprehensive approach to wildlife conservation funding.” CARA does guarantee a fire hose of money for wildlife management agencies, but many think it will hurt more than help sportsmen.

Ray Arnett, for example, is a former executive vice president of the National Rifle Association. He served in the Interior Department under President Ronald Reagan. Arnett wrote to Rehberg and all House Resources Committee members, “animal rights activists will target for acquisition the fish and game clubs, leases, and other private land where hunting is permitted, then lobby Congress and government agencies for the elimination of any consumptive use of wildlife.” Gun Owners of America opposes CARA because it will “encourage condemnation of private property which is being used for firing ranges.”

As a candidate, Denny Rehberg said, “If you take a look at the statistics, indications are that no one in America works as hard and has less to show for it than Montana working families. We lead the country in the percentage of people with multiple jobs and we’re close to the bottom in per-capita income.”

But after only eight months in office, Rehberg has forgotten his promise to help Montana’s economy. The environmental establishment financed by CARA will use the Endangered Species Act, lawsuits, and land acquisition to cut off access and utilization of both private and public property. This will damage Montana’s tourist, agricultural, and mining industries, and keep the state near the bottom of national income levels.

Rehberg wrote to constituents that his vote for the CARA Land Grab “was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve made during my nearly 25 years in public service.” He voted to enrich the Washington, DC liberal establishment over the economy and property rights of Montanans. Double-talking Denny now faces an even more difficult task: explaining why anyone should believe anything he says.

Chuck Cushman is executive director of the American Land Rights Association.