House subcommittee resurrects ‘Land Grab’ bill

Published September 1, 2001

The House Resources Committee on June 20 attempted to revive a $1.3 billion proposal for the government to buy up and set aside privately owned lands. The Conservation and Reinvestment Act (CARA) garnered substantial support in both houses of Congress last year but died during bickering over who would control each year’s purchasing decisions.

Free-market environmentalists have dubbed CARA the “Land Grab Bill” and have questioned why the government feels a need to buy up still more private property. R.J. Smith, a property rights expert at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), notes the government already owns more than 42 percent of the nation’s land. “Where is the pressing need for additional land acquisition?” he asked during previous hearings. “How much land do you intend ultimately for the government to own? How much is enough?”

Adding fuel to Smith’s concerns are recent studies showing the government is failing to properly manage the land it already owns. Earlier this year, a study by the Department of the Interior’s inspector general reported $13 billion in backlogged maintenance costs on federal land. The report pointed to crumbling buildings on Ellis Island, out-of-control forest fires in numerous national parks, and dangerous buildings in Montana federal parklands.

In addition to the Department of Interior study, a General Accounting Office report concluded the federal government has not been able “to effectively carry out its maintenance responsibilities.”

The federal government, according to Representative Butch Otter (R-Idaho), is “just not managing the land” it already owns. “Now we want them to buy more of it so it will all be in greater disrepair?”

During the June 20 hearing, American Association of Small Property Owners President Patricia Callahan chastised the government for attempting to take still more land away from private citizens. Callahan noted the Constitution does not authorize the federal government to enter the real estate business. Private citizens rather than government “ideologues” should decide what to do with their property, she asserted. “This is an outrage,” Callahan said.

“Four of every ten acres in the United States are already owned by federal, state, county, or local governments,” added Allison Freeman, a policy analyst at CEI. “Most of this land is grossly mismanaged, including 60 percent of the national forests that are considered to be in a ‘very unhealthy’ condition. Transferring well-managed private lands into the hands of federal bureaucrats is the height of irresponsibility and folly.”

Despite the evidence of government mismanagement and largesse, opponents face an uphill battle to defeat CARA. Last year, CARA passed the House by a 315-102 vote before succumbing to Senate bickering over funding oversight.

For more information . . .

and regular updates on the status of CARA, visit the Web site of the American Land Rights Association at