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Clinton´s Legacy
— by Lee Pitts

We´re in the home stretch of the eight year Presidency of Bill Clinton and with the time he has left Bill wants to insure that he leaves behind more than a string of legal bills and off color jokes about cigars and interns.

The plan that the President has come up with to secure his place in history is called the Lands Legacy Initiative and it fits in nicely with his grand designs for a one world government. It also would solve the problem with what to do with the farms and ranches left behind by farmers and ranchers after being drowned by a sea of red ink caused by a flood of imports. The government might buy them and turn them into parks!

Who Owns The Crown Jewels?

Clinton probably borrowed his idea from President Teddy Roosevelt who devised a plan to preserve this country´s most pristine places. Monuments to Roosevelt´s vision can be seen today in our national parks, forests and wildlife refuges. In the words of the present administration, the Clinton Presidency "has continued to fulfill Roosevelt´s vision by protecting Yellowstone Park from mining, creating a 1.7 million acre monument in Utah´s spectacular Red Rock country, forging an unprecedented Federal/State partnership to restore Florida´s Everglades, and fashioning a historic agreement to save ancient California Redwoods. President Clinton´s Land Legacy Initiative renews America´s commitment to its natural environment."

Private property owners get ready.

Clinton first mentioned his Land Legacy Initiative a year ago when he proposed it as a way to expand efforts by his administration "to save nationally significant tracts of undeveloped land and preserve them for national purposes." According to the White House, "The Lands Legacy Initiative continues the Clinton-Gore Administration´s vigorous efforts to save America´s natural treasures. And by providing significant new resources to states and local communities, it forges a new conservation vision for the 21st century... one that recognizes the importance of preserving irreplaceable pieces of our natural legacy within easy reach of every citizen."

"Beyond saving America´s "crown jewels" the Lands Legacy initiative will work to preserve natural wonders in community backyards to restore the localities in which Americans live, expand federal protection of critical green lands across America, help states and communities preserve local green spaces and strengthen protections for our oceans and coasts." To accomplish these lofty goals Clinton has asked for a 125% increase in funding for such preservation measures, the largest one year increase in American history and according to the administration, "the largest one year investment ever in the preservation of America´s land legacy."

Chump Change

The Land Legacy Initiative is a billion budget proposal that includes $413 million for federal protection of natural and historic sites across the country. A 26% increase. Clinton´s 2000 budget begins a three year initiative to fully complete acquisition of all authorized Civil War Battlefields. As part of the plan the Interior Department proposes to spend $8.5 million in 2000 to begin a multi-year program to protect viewsheds and historic sights along the 3,700 mile Lewis and Clark Historic Trail. Government agencies would work with communities along the trail in identifying such land and when acquisition of land is required it would supposedly be conducted in partnership with local communities. As part of this partnership approach Fish and Wildlife proposes spending $2.5 million on easements for the North Dakota Prairie National Wildlife Refuge to protect the native grasslands that supported wildlife that made winter survival for the Mandan Indians possible.

Under Clinton´s Land Legacy Initiative $434 million would be allocated to help local, state and tribal governments preserve farms, urban parks and other local green spaces. An additional $183 million would be spent to protect coastal and ocean resources. Priorities for fiscal year 2000 include acquisition of over 450,000 acres in California´s Mojave Desert, 100.000 acres for addition to New England wildlife refuges and national forests, and land critical to the ongoing restoration of Florida´s Everglades. Another $130 million is being requested to acquire lands and protect "other critical natural and critical resources." Keep in mind, this is just for the first year of what Clinton hopes will be an annual spending splurge.

After numerous field hearings and Committee meetings Congress is expected to act on Clinton´s billion dollar request in February . At first glance Clinton´s proposal to save battlefields, farms and parks may sound virtuous. In the days of trillion dollar budgets a mere billion is chump change. But this is just the beginning of Clinton´s Land Legacy. As stated in his initial proposal, Clinton hopes to make it on ongoing program: "To sustain these efforts in the new century, the President commits to work with Congress to create a permanent funding stream beginning in fiscal year 2001." Besides a few favorable comments in the history books, Clinton hopes to leave office with a commitment from the federal government that they will spend at least a billion dollars per year purchasing private property in this country.

Worse Than A Spotted Owl In An Old Growth Redwood

As expected, green groups have fallen all over themselves in praise of Clinton´s Land Legacy Initiative. Roger Schlickeisen of Defenders of Wildlife said that "President Clinton has once again demonstrated his commitment to protecting and preserving that which is wild and natural about America. His pledge to provide permanent and significantly increased funding for America´s lands legacy is both far reaching and far sighted. We are very pleased to see that various members of Congress, of both parties, are supporting similar proposals. After six years of fighting efforts by Congress to undermine environmental protections, environmental groups finally have a positive initiative to promote."

Private property rights groups had a slightly different reaction. Chuck Cushman, Chairman of the League of Private Property Voters said, "The potential funding and the trust fund elements make this bill the most anti-private property and landowner legislation to be proposed by the Congress in ten years. If Lands Legacy or similar legislation becomes law, they will destroy more private property than any other law including the Endangered Species Act."

"No property owner anywhere in the country will be safe," continued Cushman. "The federal government will go on an unprecedented land buying binge. It will enhance their power, threaten property owners, and do little for sportsmen, parks and public access because most of the area will go into restricted access status. Over time, much of rural America will be forced out of their homes, off their farms and into cities. Whether or not eminent domain and condemnation is part of the initial bill, the green groups promise to add it later. Tens of thousands of people will be forced to sell. Hundreds of small communities will lose their tax base and many will disappear."

A Self-Perpetuating Program

Initially, the money for more federal land acquisitions would come from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The LWCF coffers are filled by federal offshore oil sales and leases and were previously used to retire some of the national debt. This marks the first time an administration has requested the entire amount of funds available, $900 million, for use in land acquisition and conservation. The government plans to use revenue from such leases to buy more land with which they could increase their revenue stream to buy even more land. And on and on.

Clinton´s Land Legacy Initiative if approved, would be administered by the Department of Interior, the USDA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The Interior Department, already burdened with more land than it can take care of properly, would be responsible for spending $579 million with the BLM getting $48.9, Fish and Wildlife $73.6 million and the National Parks Service $295 million. The USDA would be charged with spending $268 million.

Here´s just a sampling of other ways
Clinton plans to leave his mark:

Land Acquisition Grants: $150 million would be made available to states, local and tribal governments in the form of matching grants where the local entity would be expected to match the federal government´s contribution. The money could be used to form non-profit land trusts, to purchase conservation easements, and outright land acquisition for urban parks, greenways, wildlife habitat and wetlands. Grants would be awarded on a competitive basis with priority going to open space conservation.

Open Space Planning Grants: Those states willing to match federal funds would be given part of $50 million to protect farmland, maintain natural surroundings in communities and combat urban sprawl. The program would award grants with emphasis on balancing growth, infrastructure and quality of life concerns.

Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund: Clinton´s initiative recommends a $66 million INCREASE over the 1999 enacted budget (for a total of $80 million), to be used for state and local land acquisition to protect and restore threatened and endangered species and for recovery of listed and candidate species. The program would be administered by Fish and Wildlife. According to the White House, "These funding levels address the exploding demand by states, municipalities, and private parties for the innovative programs the Administration has developed to reconcile economic growth with species conservation."

Forest Legacy Program: To protect private forest land that provide critical wildlife habitat the Initiative asks for $50 million, an increase of more than six fold, for matching grants to states for the purchase of permanent conservation easements. The program would be administered by the U.S Forest Service and the proposed funding would "protect" roughly 135,000 acres.

Farmland Protection Program: This part of Clinton´s Land Legacy Initiative got its beginnings in the 1996 Farm Bill. It would make more money available for matching grants available to states, communities, tribes, and trusts for the purchase of permanent conservation easements on "threatened farmland". The program would be administered by USDA´s Natural Resource Conservation Service. The federal funds would just be the tip of the iceberg. As of mid 1998, $35 million in federal funding had been spent under the Farm Bill to leverage an estimated $230 more million for the purpose of buying conservation easements on 127,000 acres of US farmland. One of the stated goals of this program would be to sustain rural economies, although it´s hard to see how this would be accomplished by turning farmland into permanent parks.

Smart Growth Partnerships: Lands Legacy would also include a revolving loan program to support acquisition of land and easements in rural areas. The partnership, administered by the USDA, would make loans to intermediate borrowers such as state governments, Indian tribes and non-profit corporations which in turn would loan these funds to land trusts and other non-profit organizations. The initial proposed funding would support an estimated $50 million in loans for this purpose.

Urban and Community Forestry: This part of the Lands Legacy Initiative already exists with the Forest Service administering the program in partnership with 8,000 volunteer organizations in more than 10,000 communities. Clinton proposes the spending of $40 million for matching grants to cities and states to establish and maintain urban forests and related green spaces. The dollar amount represents a 29% increase for such programs. The higher dollar amount would support 75,000 projects.

Clinton´s Land Legacy Initiative also includes additional funding for national marine sanctuaries, coastal zone management, coral reef restoration and funds for the purchase of land near estuaries. Note that many of Clinton´s proposals require matching funds. In at least one land acquisition described by the White House, the cost sharing agreement included a corporation: the Catellus Corporation, who teamed with the BLM and the Wildlands Conservancy to purchase land. Imagine the paybacks and blackmail possible here!

The Clinton Legacy: No Trespassing

In building support for its proposal the Clinton administration makes it sound like America will be one giant park with access to anyone. In presenting the Lands Legacy Initiative Clinton said: "It´s become every bit important to preserve the small but sacred green and open spaces closer to home... woods and meadows and seashores where children can still play; streams where sportsmen and women can fish; agricultural lands where a family can produce the harvest we often take for granted."

The same document that began with the preceding Clinton quote also included this possible glimpse of the future from the Wilderness Act of 1964: "Where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."

One wonders... Will the Clinton legacy be more public park space and mismanaged federally owned land possibly bearing his name? Or, more political and bureaucratic ultimatums that restrict the freedoms of private property owners?