Why are American taxpayers funding federal, state and private organizations’ land and conservation easement purchases while defunding programs intended for our veterans, children and grandparents?
We continually hear of the Olympia’s budget woes and how special sessions are needed to “balance” the state budget. Yet, rarely do we hear of the millions of taxpayer and ratepayer dollars funneled through state Department of Fish and Wildlife, Bonneville Power Administration, public utility districts, “local” conservation groups and others to buy private lands statewide.
The huge tracts of private land being purchased with taxpayer dollars and transferred to the public sector have led to a loss of county taxes, private enterprise, development and agriculture. It also resulted in a disproportionate increase of property values, mismanagement of public land and heavier burdens on private landowners.
The harm that comes from these purchases far outweighs the public benefit often touted by radical groups intent on their personal vision of pristine, restored forests and critical areas habit for so-called endangered species; a benefit that in themselves are arguable as to their necessity and level of need.
A few years ago, Fish and Wildlife was given the directive to buy as much land as possible. Since then, the state agency, with the help of different environmental groups — such as Conservation Northwest — has proceeded to identify “interested” or “potential” private landowners within Okanogan County who have significant amounts of acreage around key water sources. Many landowners do not realize they have been targeted. Nor have they approached the agencies with a proposal to sell their land or attached rights.
Nonetheless, landowners are approached by environmental groups established in the county and staffed by men and women who have integrated themselves and their families into the communities, working as facilitators and mediators between the residents and Fish and Wildlife. These facilitators, who have become neighbors and friends while gaining community confidence, then offer exorbitant amounts of money for the outright purchase of private lands and/or property rights.
The use of these private-interest groups is how Fish and Wildlife is able to achieve the Legislature’s directive, while maintaining a “no net loss” and increasing public land holdings at the expense of taxpayers and ratepayers. The majority are unknowing and unwilling participants in the state agency’s and special interest groups’ purchases of private lands and conservation easements.
The 5th Amendment of the Bill of Rights states: “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”
You could argue there has been no taking, the private property owners that sell have been more than justly compensated and that these land and conservation easement are between a willing buyer and willing sellers.
I maintain taxpayers and ratepayers are unwilling and unknowing buyers; private property owners that sell their lands and conservation easements have not been fully apprised of the impacts leading to a higher tax burden.
Using private funds to purchase land for conservation purposes is within the rights of the individual and in many cases is admirable. Taxpayer dollars, on the other hand, were never intended to be an open vault to fund pet projects. Government was never intended to be in the real estate business.
Tax dollars were intended by the founding fathers to provide limited services with private ownership controlling the land.
We the people have the responsibility to direct elected employees and put a stop to the usurpation of our lands at the expense of our own pocketbooks and future generations’ culture and heritage.
Trinity Stucker is a Bonaparte Lake-area resident active in the land-acquisition issue. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
to contact her.