Congressmen Seek to Halt Federal Land Acquisition

Published June 1, 2003

If Representative Sam Graves (R-Missouri) gets his way, the federal government will be restricted in buying up new lands until it takes better care of the land it already owns.

With the support of several colleagues, Graves introduced legislation on April 1 directing that money the government receives from oil and gas leases be used to clear a $15 billion maintenance backlog on federal lands before the money is used to buy new lands.

“It just peeves me to no end to know that they continue to buy up this land, and they won’t take care of what they already have,” said Graves. “They own one out of every five acres already.”

Alan Front, vice president of the Trust for Public Land, a conservation group, praised Graves’ interest in attending to overdue maintenance, but did not want the money to come at the expense of new land purchases.

“It’s the wrong tool for the right job,” said Front. “Using that money for maintenance is like mortgaging your house and buying groceries with the money. It would be paying for operations out of resource depletion.”

With the federal government running a budget deficit, acquiring new lands for public ownership is an expense many legislators are unwilling to accept–especially when current lands are being improperly cared for. Even state budgets are adversely affected by public land acquisitions, according to Graves.

“At least in areas like Missouri, it [federal ownership] takes land off the tax rolls,” Graves said. “They do have payments in lieu of taxes, but they’re never the amount they would have been on private land.”

Speaking at a Center for Private Conservation dinner on April 14, Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman, who oversees 192 million acres of national forests and rangelands, asserted environmental protection and conservation do not require government ownership.

“We have a great tradition of private land conservation in this country … a tradition of voluntary, incentive-based conservation … and a tradition based on local leadership and local decision-making,” said Veneman.

Representatives James Gibbons (R-Nevada), Chris Cannon (R-Utah), Butch Otter (R-Idaho), Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), Roscoe Bartlett (R-Maryland), and Cliff Stearns (R-Florida) supported Graves’ bill at its introduction. Graves’ fellow Missouri Republicans, including Senator Kit Bond and Representative Roy Blunt, have in the past supported federal land purchases in Missouri.

James M. Taylor is managing editor of Environment & Climate News. His email address is [email protected].