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Spring 2009

Massive Public Lands Grab

The famous author Ayn Rand once said, “without property rights, no other rights are possible”. As a nation founded on the basic liberties and freedoms of private property rights and capitalism, the recent signing of the $10 billion public lands bill causes great concerns for residents in rural America.

The Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009 (Act) was signed on March 30, after passing the House and Senate by a slim margin. Many are calling it a much needed investment in the environment, but others are calling it the largest land grab in our history.

Currently, our government owns over 30 percent of land in the United States and over 45 percent of California. The cumulative impact of government land acquisition has had negative impacts on rural communities for decades. The Act expands every sort of Federal land ownership, including new and expanded National Parks, National Trails, National Heritage Areas, National Monuments, National Conservation Areas, National Preserves, National Historical Parks, National Historic Sites, Wild and Scenic Rivers, Wilderness designations, and more.

Another cause for concern is locking up millions of acres of land into Wilderness Areas in the height of our nation’s largest economic crisis since the 1920’s. Designating the land Wilderness will prohibit cattle grazing, mining, timber harvest, energy exploration, and recreation only furthering our economic downturn.

Furthermore, a chief complaint about the law it that is furthers government land acquisition, while the National Park Service is reporting that their agency has a $9 billion dollar backlog of maintenance projects for land they currently manage. It defies logic why our government would acquire more land when they cannot manage the land they currently own.

Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009
10 - New National Heritage Areas
14 - Studies that would create or expand the National Park Service jurisdiction.
19 - Provisions specifically withdrawing federal land from mineral leasing, such as oil, gas and coal exploration.
80 - New Federal Wilderness designations or additions to public lands.
92 - Rivers designated as wild and scenic, a designation that imposes federal jurisdiction and regulation on the impacted waterway, and involve significant land acquisition authority.
1,085.77 - Miles of river designated as wild and scenic, a designation that imposes federal jurisdiction and regulation on the impacted waterway, and involve significant land acquisition authority.
2.186 million - Acres designated as federal wilderness land, which eliminates all major recreation and prohibits any new oil and gas leasing.
3 million+ - Total acreage withdrawn from energy leasing.
331 million - Barrels of recoverable oil being taken out of energy exploration in Wyoming.
$640 million - Spending included in the bill for new state and local water projects.
$915 billion - Total increase in mandatory government spending over the 2009-2018 period.
$10 billion - Total projected cost to the federal government on enacting the omnibus.

While many may not be affected by this new law, residents in rural northern California are not so lucky. As Family Water Alliance (FWA) has reported, a Yolo County based non-profit organization, Tuleyome, has proposed a National Conservation Area designation for rural parts of Colusa, Glenn, Napa, Lake, and Solano counties. The designation proposed is part of the National Landscape Conservation System which gained legislative authority and statutory permanence through the Act

In addition, the NCA designation proposed for Northern California was modeled after the Santa Rosa-San Jacinto National Monument (SRSJNM) designation in Riverside County. The SRSJNM was just expanded by thousands of acres in the recent Act. Only adding to the concern that rural residents have voiced over the proposed Northern California Berryessa Snow Mountain National Conservation Area.

In conclusion, the agenda to further government land acquisition and environmental programs that have negative impacts on rural communities must be brought to light.

Whether through the Endangered Species Act or increased environmental regulation the impacts to our communities are real and need to be addressed. FWA is dedicated to protecting our rural communities and will continue to fight for the protection of our backyards.  ■


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