Becky Fenger Fenger PointingJULY 28, 2010

National landscape agenda


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Like a bad penny, CARA is back. Actually, she never went away. As I wrote in 2001, CARA is not a new lady in town, being neither new nor a lady. CARA stands for Conservation and Reinvestment Act and, if passed, would create a trust fund that guarantees between one billion to three billion taxpayer dollars per year to "condemn" private property, depending on which version of the bill was successful. In the eyes of Congress, and the words of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, land acquisition would become more important than education, social security, crime prevention, defense, and medical research.

The U.S. government owns 87 percent of all land in Arizona. As I argued back then, it's nuts to commit billions to the feds to buy even more of our land. Owners who have taken good and loving care of their property will be targeted first, since that land will have the highest values for wildlife. "It is an unmitigated social and economic disaster for the West," lamented conservationist Landis Aiden at the time. "It will doom Arizona's economy to a state of permanent recession," he said.

In January of 2002 I discussed CARA with U.S. Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.). "It is horrible!" Kyl said. When I asked him why Western senators who were always opposed to land grabs in the past were now behind this damaging legislation, he answered that they are trying to get to the trough for pork to bring home to their states.

It is easy for the man on the street to get angry about a midnight pay raise that Congress slips through for itself, I noted, but more difficult to get him to understand bills like CARA. "How about the midnight land grab," Kyl asked, "with more than a billion dollars a year?" He added: "Arizona is comprised of less than 13 percent privately-owned land in this state. All the rest of it is government land. And now we're going to give money to the government to buy more. When does it stop? When we're left with 3 percent?" Good questions.

Since it seems difficult to believe, I asked Sen. Kyl if the goal of the bill was to make it possible for a mule deer to migrate from Mexico up to Canada and walk through my living room. "That's it. You've got it," he said.

For the next fifteen years, if passed, CARA would funnel into an off-budget trust fund $3.1 billion a year from federal oil and gas royalties, wrote Allison Freeman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute in August of 2001. That is money that was previously deposited into the general treasury. Fengernails to those off-budget items that Congress is so fond of. Freeman compared that version of CARA to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: ridiculous money distribution schemes, environmental degradation, private property usurpation and fiscal irresponsibility. What's not to like here?

A third of the money would have gone to coastal impact assistance. As an illustration of the mischief in store, this provision would have included $6.7 million for the coast of Ohio! Does this remind you of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, county supervisor Peggy West who couldn't understand why they should boycott Arizona over Senate Bill 1070, "since Arizona doesn't border Mexico."

The American Land Rights Association in Battle Ground, Washington, has been working for decades for "the wise use of our resources, access to our federal lands, and the protection of our private property rights." Not long ago its executive director, Chuck Cushman, issued a warning about the National Landscape Agenda published by the American Society of Landscape Architects. It is CARA by another name.

The ALRA is not anti-park but rather pro-people, they would have us know. They are against the removal of existing families, ranchers and businesses using Kelo type condemnation. The National Park Service likes to report them to Congress as "willing sellers." Willing, my foot.

The National Parks and Conservation Association wrote a master plan in 1988 called "Big Park." It might be more properly called, "Big Grab." That 8-volume plan contained many of the provisions in a bill dubbed the "Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009."

President Barack Obama signed the 1,218-page bill into law on March 30 of last year. The act includes more than 150 measures that create more than two million acres of new wilderness areas along with more parks, trails, historic sites and other protected lands. It may sound good to you until it is your kitchen or creek that becomes off limits to humans.

Becky Fenger can be reached at