Photo by: Steve Horne

The rest of the picture

By Jim Beers

It is heartening to see Northern Virginia newspaper readers take an interest in learning more about The Nature Conservancy. It is true that they own well over 100 Million acres worldwide, of which more than 15 Million acres are in the United States. It is true that they take in approximately $1 Billion per year, and that they are being audited by IRS for an extended period, as you read this. Despite rumors of mismanagement and real estate sweetheart deals for employees, the reputation of TNC for "saving" wild places persists. Even while they seek Federal tax breaks, at our expense, for those who sell them land to thereby make them the highest bidder for whatever property they desire.

TNC buys land to stop land uses by private owners, from ranchers to home builders. While couched in terms of preservation, the result is always less privately owned land, and more Federally owned land, since TNC resells (at a profit) millions of acres to the Federal government. Say what you will, this also means less use of our environment; from natural resources and recreation, to the raising of families and strengthening of communities. Given the current scale of such acquisitions, this means a weaker United States of America.

To explain this conclusion, we need to put TNC into context. The Federal government owns, or increasingly restricts, more than half of the United States. Millions of acres are owned by, or have titles encumbered by, or are otherwise negatively influenced by Federal ownership. A quick list would include:

  • Thousands of existing National Parks, Refuges, Forests, and Bureau of Land Management Units.
  • Annual expansions of above (i.e. Manassas Battlefield Mall.)
  • New Parks and Refuges added each year.
  • National Recreation Areas, National Trails, Scenic Rivers, National Heritage Rivers, and Heritage Trails.
  • National Heritage Areas, defined so broadly, that all of Tennessee, and a quarter of Iowa are so designated.
  • Claims by federal managers that "views" from federal properties are within their jurisdiction.
  • Moves to close trails, rights of way, county roads, and state roads (29 & 234 anyone?) through Federal properties.
  • Federal Critical Habitat claims for Endangered Species that take private property interests without compensation.
  • Conservation Easements that encumber property titles, in perpetuity.
  • Federal land use closures, such as Wilderness and Roadless declarations.
  • Growing practice of charging entrance fees that bar the poor, elderly, and even immigrants, who would benefit the most from learning of our heritage and traditions.
  • Forced reintroductions of harmful species, like wolves, on federal lands, to thereby force their presence on private lands, over state objections.
  • Land control claims for federal budget growth for contrived "needs" for Keystone Species, Species of Concern, Species in Danger, Indicator Species, and Desertification.
  • Federal authority expansion (budget and personnel) for concocted Native Ecosystem and Invasive Species issues that are non-existent.
  • Proliferating Executive Orders that lock up energy (Alaskan oil, Colorado gas, Utah coal) resources under Federal properties.

These are but a few of the federal properties and property claims that reduce our property, and our potential every day.

While it has worked for 100 years (since Teddy Roosevelt) to buy more and more land and "preserve" it, the time for hard questions about the future rate of acquisition has arrived. Like ever-rising taxes, it can't go on forever. There is a limit.

The amount of prime land bought by TNC, plus the land being brought under federal control, plus the increasing restrictions on the use of these and private lands requires, a national dialogue. No longer can we just applaud (by voting for) politicians who throw our money at TNC and the federal land management agencies and the regulatory agencies to limit where we can live, shop, and recreate.

America was built on schools, farms, towns, and profitable and sustainable uses of land by its citizens. Blindly supporting the steady elimination of private property, tolerating the elimination of every human activity on public lands from roads to walking dogs, and watching helplessly as natural resources on public lands are no longer managed, are all results of the growing federal estate that TNC helps to expand. The time to understand how this all fits together has long since passed, and the time, for all of us, to exert a call for selective discrimination regarding more land purchasing for Federal controls, is now.

Jim Beers is a retired Refuge Manager, Special Agent, & Wildlife Biologist U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.