"public" Lands Don’t Belong To Us
"PUBLIC" LANDS DON’T BELONG TO US
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
In the wake of the Bush Administration’s reported decision to sell off a pretty large portion of what are misleadingly called “public” lands—including 85,000 acres of national forest land in California—many who speak out in behalf of the special interest groups championing keeping these lands under government control are protesting. The Los Angeles Times reports, for examples, that Professor of environmental history, Char Miller of Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, chimed in with the this tidbit in response to the Bush Administration’s initiative: "This is a fire sale of public lands. It is utterly unprecedented." He added that "[i]t signals that the lands and the agency that manages them are in deep trouble. For the American public, it is an awful way to understand that it no longer controls its public land."
What is worth special attention in this comment is the unselfconscious way that idea of “public land” is conflated with land that the American public controls. In point of fact, the only land members of the American public control is their own, their private property. The so called public lands are the farthest things from what the American public controls.
Here is an example. I live in Silverado Canyon, in Orange County, California, which is adjacent to the Cleveland National Forest—the canyon community consists of a population of about 3000 people who all own their own pieces of land ranging in size from as small as 3500 square feet to several acres and some few larger parcels, including a church and a horse ranch. But next to this oasis of pieces of private property stands the huge national forest and it is controlled not by the American public at all but by some bureaucrats, including rangers, who do with it what they choose. Most often, for example, the forest is shut down—“Gate closed”—so no one may enter either on foot or by vehicle. One reason given recently is that some toad that’s deemed to be endangered might get crushed if people were to amble about there. Anyone who would like to take a walk there is shut out, period. Those who might use the dirt road and climb up to the crest of the Santa Ana Mountain, maybe descend down into Riverside County, are without any control of these “public” lands.
I am sure that were I in a position to be addressing the good professor from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, with these points, I would receive an earnest lecture about democracy and how that system makes it perfectly legitimate to speak of “the American Public” controlling “public lands,” despite the fact that you and I and millions of other Americans have zero control at all concerning the way those lands are used. But democracy in the American political tradition was never to be used to authorize the federal government to wrest control of land around the country. Democracy was to be used for electing the administrators of our constitutional system of government.
Instead of this, we now have a dictatorship of the portion of the citizenry that votes in various politicians who, in turn, appoint various regulators who then proceed to control whatever comes under so called “public” jurisdiction, including huge forests and other lands around America. This bunch is nothing but a special interest group that has a firm grip on very valuable property around the country, calling the shots about how that property is to be used.
Perhaps their idea of how to use this property is sound, perhaps it is not, perhaps it varies from parcel to parcel. But that’s not important. What’s important is that to call all this the American public’s control of public lands is either confused or an out and out, deliberate ruse by which some people get to control land while all the rest of us are forced to pay for the upkeep and maintenance of these lands without any say about its use.
The concept of “public” has served these people well, I must admit. They have managed to expropriate for themselves all kinds of valuable properties by pretending to the rest of us that they are the guardians of what “we” own and supposedly control. This, of course, goes contrary to the idea of the unalienable individual rights doctrine that the American founders sketched out in the Declaration of Independence and included in the Bill of Rights.
Sadly, over the two centuries since these documents were written, various forces, including some deplorable jurisprudence—of which the last clear example was the Summer 2005 Kelo v. City of New London, CT, ruling of the US Supreme Court—have undermined the individual rights framework. In its place has been substituted the collectivism under which government ownership of much of the country is now virtually taken for granted and promoted vigorously by the likes of Professor Miller.
I am no great fan of George W. Bush’s administration but I must raise my voice in support of the little bit it’s trying to do to restore private ownership of land, a significant portion of the means of production, which these basically socialist forces in our nation are trying to oppose. Just recall that Karl Marx and Frederick Engels listed the abolition of private property as the first step on the way to communism in their Communist Manifesto. We are a pretty long way there now.