Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Tale of Two (or Three) Cities

Modern land rush update
The Tale of Two (or Three) Cities
What private property?
By Stephen L. Wilmeth

            President Obama recently put his phone down only to pick up his pen to sign the newest proclamation designating a national monument.
            Some 1665 acres of the Point Arena-Stormetta Public Lands in California’s Mendocino County was added to the California Coastal National Monument with the stroke of his pen. The document of record was Presidential Proclamation 9089, Boundary Enlargement of California Coastal National Monument.  As set forth by the Antiquities Act, the president was required to designate only the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the object to be protected. He covered that base referencing those very words, “I declare national monument land and interests in lands … which is the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected”.
            Reading the remainder of the proclamation, there is language describing how beautiful the place is with its various fauna and flora. It heralds the archeological values with the ancestral homelands of the Central Pomo Indians. There was also a brief reference to 19th century industries which prompts a question. Is there any modern counterpart to those industries, and, if there isn’t … why not?
            The Tale of Two Cities
            When did we have to endure Dickens’ The Tale of Two Cities? Was it high school or was it in Mrs. Oberg’s 8th Grade English class?
            In either case, we were not mature enough to understand its context. The book was a depiction of how the ruling class attempted to maintain a strangle hold on the peasantry, and how barbaric overreactions culminated in horrific conflict between the classes. There was no way we could relate to the real world implications and the chaotic similarities between Paris and London before and after the French Revolution.
Two passages elevate the unflattering parallels.
            The first is the symbolism exhibited when the Marquis St. Evrémonde ordered his carriage to be driven recklessly through the streets of Paris and a peasant child was killed. His annoyance at the trivial incident was rectified when he reached into his purse for a coin and tossed it out to compensate the distraught father for the loss. The Marquis had better things to do with his time than consider the plight of some minion. His world had more serious issues at hand. His importance was immense. The worth of those masses around him registered no comparison to his intellect and eminence.
            The second passage is what we most likely remember from the book.
It was the best of times … it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom … it was the age of foolishness. It was epoch of belief … it was epoch of incredulity. It was season of light … it was season of darkness. It was spring of hope … it was the winter of despair. We had everything before us … we were all going direct to heaven … we were all going the other way.
            Consider the relevance of those words today. Can there be 81 words more appropriately written describing the parallels of our current relationship with our government and its networking legions of governance barons?
            A word to the wise, though, don’t reread the book … it will add needless depression to your lives.
            The Tale of Three Cities … a modern corollary
            Ranchers in Dona Ana County are concerned about the debacle they face if their private lands become inholdings within a national monument as proposed in S. 1805. The legislation, introduced by New Mexico Senators Udall and Heinrich, would contain some 75 parcels of private land.
            News outlets have reported on the matter of state trust lands within the proposal. Those lands, deeded to the state in the state’s enabling act, serve as revenue sourcing for the state’s educational fund. The state’s Land Commissioner, Ray Powell, told a crowd of some 700 people in the weeks preceding that he supported the monument plan and that he would work diligently with the BLM to trade those lands for federal lands elsewhere. Those 100± square miles of land became topics of agreement within the press and the legislation’s proponents for their release from any threat of isolation and the subsequent diminishment to their earning potential. Education has to be served.
In turn, voices asking for similar and commensurate consideration for private lands have been told time and again the monument posed no threat to their lands. The contradiction cannot be lost on anybody.
 So, what is the truth? That can be found in referencing the tale of three cities. Aside from Las Cruces, the nearby municipalities of Deming, Hatch, and Mesilla have something in common with the pending monument. The summation of the combined deeded lands within their city limits would fit within acres of the consolidated private lands within the proposal!
 Would the citizens of those three communities believe their land would not be affected if a monument designation was made on all sides of their private property?
Furthermore, can you imagine the public outcry that would take place if the three municipalities were merged into some grand plan without a token of landowner input or comments? That is exactly what private property owners have faced in this highly contentious debate.
Folks have been told repeatedly nothing would happen to their private lands, but, at the same time, they were never offered any consideration of trading their lands under the same courtesy extended to the state of New Mexico in order that state trust lands maintain their future earning potentials.
Indicators of things to come
When the government is in the mix, nothing is quite like it seems.
In the case of the Dona Ana proposal, the only way S.1805 gets done in this political climate is to hand it off to the president for him to sign a proclamation to designate the area a national monument by authority of the Antiquities Act. When that happens, people ought to realize the footprint of S.1805 is not the purported 498,815 acres as stated in the language of the bill.
When the state land commissioner and the BLM agree on their pending land swaps, the federal footprint will increase to at least 563,150 acres. When the private lands are annexed into the mix, the acreage will become at least 572,500 acres.
But ... how can that be?
The citizenry continues to be told their private land will not be affected. Notwithstanding the stepwise elimination of future rights to enjoy the privileges of private property, a larger, more overt specter looms. It arrives in the text of the recent designation of the Point Arena-Stormetta Public Lands proclamation.
In Presidential Proclamation 9089, words set forth exactly what the ranchers impacted by the proposal have expected as the government’s preferred alternative. “Lands and interests in lands within the unit boundaries not owned or controlled by the Government of the United States shall be reserved as a part of the unit upon acquisition of ownership or control of the United States.”
If the United States isn’t intent on acquiring the private property in the lands of S.1805, it needs to reevaluate its treatment of folks pleading for protection of their homes and investments. At a minimum, they should be extended the same rights and privileges pledged to the state of New Mexico.
If their lives are to be shredded, the least the government could do … is to toss a symbolic coin into their midst.

Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “If 572,500 acres is the smallest area for the managed care of this object … at least tell us what the object is!”

Wilmeth raises an interesting issue.  Why is private land treated differently than state land?  Why is there specific language in S. 1805 that encourages state land be exchanged out of the proposed monument but no such language exists for private landowners?  This is another instance where one form of gov't (the feds) have special provisions for another form of gov't (the state) while they both trample the private individual.

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