Selfish ideology controls the public purse
|August 7, 2008||Posted by Jeffery J. Smith under Progress Report, The Progress Report|
Selfish ideology controls the public purse
Why US Parks put land purchases on hold
Should all Earth be owned, no part shared? Some 1.8 million acres inside and abutting national parks are at risk of development. We trim this 2008 article from The Christian Science Monitor of July 29. The author is a staff writer.
By Mark Clayton
The character of national parks is threatened by impending development on their borders — even inside the park itself.
Threats to wildlife, open space, and cultural treasures — not to mention the prospect of a hotel popping up to despoil a natural vista — exist on up to 1.8 million acres of privately held parcels that the National Park Service would like to buy but cannot, according to a recent study by the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), a nonprofit advocacy group.
That huge backlog of parcels, which includes private land awaiting purchase inside parks (called inholdings) as well as neighboring parcels, is partly due to the glacial rate at which theyre being acquired. Most parks have had little funding for land acquisition for years. Under the Bush administration, budget requests for land acquisition funds for national parks fell from $172 million in 2000 to $21.8 million for this next fiscal year.
Yet theres a limit to how long even public-spirited land-owners are willing to wait.
Arizonas Twin Buttes ranch — rich with ancient petroglyphs, petrified wood, and dinosaur fossils — is a Rosetta stone for paleontology, says David Gillette, curator of paleontology at the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff. Not to acquire this land for the park would be a huge missed opportunity for the American public. Its a scientific resource we cant match anywhere else.
Its owner hoped to sell his ranch to the National Park Service so it can become part of the Petrified Forest National Park next door. In 2004 Congress formally expanded Petrified Forests boundaries to add his and other nearby parcels. But a lack of funds due to a shift in Bush administration and congressional priorities has delayed and perhaps killed the deal.
So instead of his land becoming a new jewel in an expanded national park, the owner may now have to sell to developers who would carve his ranch into 40-acre ranchettes. Or, they may mine it for buried petrified wood, valuable when polished and sold as bookends and other ornaments.
A Republican-led Congress had been cutting Park Service land acquisition budgets even faster than the administration — until Democrats took control in 2006 and restored some funding. This year, Congress appropriated $44 million, double the administration request.
Land budgets can also be misleading, since just $13 million of the $22 million land-acquisition budget request this year is actually to purchase parkland. More than $8 million is for administrative services related to land acquisition. Such other programs include, for instance, a new administration push for cooperative programs that pay private land owners to maintain natural resources on their land to support rare or endangered species living there.
Private owners have a legal right — not a moral right but a privilege — to get value for their property.
Theres hope that some private inholdings will end up as parkland. In Maine, Friends of Acadia and the Maine Coast Heritage Trust have joined to purchase about 140 parcels worth about $40 million to fill gaps in Acadia National Park and prevent development in those areas.
Similarly, a charitable group played a key role in purchasing land in the middle of Pickets Charge Field, is helping restore the land for Gettysburg National Military Park.
JJS: Preserves could find potential parkland much more affordable were owners paying a land tax. When land taxes rise, land prices fall, since buyers cant afford to pay both a high price and a high tax. And while a tax on land is fair anyway, owners have more wherewithal to pay it when government quits taxing the buildings and jobs and other goods and services that peoples labor and capital do produce.
While owners do have a right to the value of their part of nature, with rights being equal, so does everyone else. Everyone has a moral right to call some part of Earth home and to a fair share of the value of all parts of their homeland. What an owner has is a duty — some day hopefully a legal duty — to compensate those whom one excludes from ones land, just as s/he would be compensated by ones neighbors for excluding her or him from theirs.
This notion of mutual compensation is not new and once was well understood, back when the words owe and own were variations of the same word and meaning. Then owners owed up to their lord. Now in the age of equality, we owe out to our neighbors.
Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.
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