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Congress Wants to Step Up Land Grabs

  • A proposed $45 billion land grab bill in Congress is fiscally irresponsible and a threat to property rights and hunting.
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By Margo Turner

Farmers, ranchers and other private property owners could find themselves forced off their land if Congress enacts a $45 billion federal land grab legislation, warn property rights activists.

The Conservation and Reinvestment Act (CARA), S. 25, now before the Senate, is fiscally irresponsible and would be a "tremendous defeat for private property ownership, hunting and sound conservation," said David Riggs, director of land use policy at the Com petitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization in Washington.

"In the wake of disastrous fires out West this summer, the majority of which occurred on government-managed land, it is sheer lunacy to give this same government more land to try to 'manage,'" Riggs explained.

Four of every 10 acres in the country is managed by local, state and federal governments, according to Riggs. He noted that most of this land is grossly mismanaged.

Representatives from CEI and the American Land Rights Asso ciation (ALRA) joined property rights, taxpayer and consumer advocates on the East Lawn of the Capitol Sept. 20 to counter a rally by groups that support the federal land grab legislation.

Riggs called CARA "an affront to American taxpayers and congressional accountability."

CARA is nothing more than a "pork-barrel-spending bill," added ALRA legis lative representative Mike Hardiman.

The legislation grants the government $3 billion per year for 15 years to step up purchases of privately-owned land.

Critics point out that CARA would be the first entitlement program that does not allow Congress to evaluate it for five years.

Under CARA, Congress would create a land acquisition trust fund and other trust funds that cover such things as Civil War battlefields, Endangered Species Act enforcement and Indian tribes. The tax money would be taken away from the legislative process and handed directly to various federal and state agencies, critics said.

More than $900 million a year would be guaranteed to federal and state agencies for land acquisition. State agencies would receive a total of $450 million a year and have unlimited power to exercise eminent domain and condemn land.

Distribution of CARA funds defies "any rational understanding," said Robert H. Nelson, senior fellow at CEI. For example, New York State would receive $40 million a year while $15 million would go to Maine with its long and ecologically sensitive coastline.

The largest allotment of money under CARA would go to Louisiana ($285 million), Texas ($131 million), Alaska ($89 million), Florida ($69 million), Cali for nia ($67 million) and Mississippi ($61 million).

The House passed CARA (H.R. 701) by a 315 to 102 vote on May 11. Critics claim few congressmen knew or cared about the bill's specific provisions.

Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) recently circulated a letter to fellow senators to build support for CARA. So far 50 senators have signed the DeWine letter.

If DeWine obtains signatures from 60 senators, CARA supporters would have a chance to win a floor vote or make it imperative for Senate leaders to add CARA to a last-minute appropriations bill, the ALRA warned on its web site,