Anchorage Daily News – 7/2/97
Voice of the Times


A glance at the current budget deal between Congress and the president reveals that the Republican surrender to green spenders is complete.

Two years ago, the GOP sought to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency. Now, it is giving the agency all Clinton asked for - whopping increases that even include a record $307.4 million for something called "multimedia." Apparently, computer games are big attractions down there at LEnfant Plaza.

Likewise, after fretting about assaults on private property for years, Republicans may join with Democrats to spend another $700 million to $800 million they don't have purchasing still more land that isn't needed. One parcel alone 5,625 acres of the Headwaters redwood forest of Northern California - will cost U.S. taxpayers a cool $250 million.

Headwaters represents a payoff to environmentalists and big business. Greens will get another park, and the Pacific Lumber Co., which owns Headwaters, will receive an exorbitant sum in return for a few acres of land. Additionally, according to the pending deal, the company would be given another $130 million from the state of California and be guaranteed the right to log the rest of its 200,000 acres without interference.

Make no mistake, this arrangement, like most federal purchases, is money down the drain. It will help neither natural preservation nor justice. The monies intended for Headwaters could be used far more effectively elsewhere - for example, to rescue species at risk. If, as a 1990 federal report claimed, saving one creature costs $2 million, then Headwaters would divert funds that could prevent the extinction of 125 plants and animals.

Meanwhile, according to a recent study, ending timber harvests on just these few Headwaters acres will cost the local community $294 million in lost taxes and wages. And that's just the beginning. Greens want Uncle Sam to purchase another 55,000 acres.

This is a high price to pay for a park that's redundant. Redwood trees still cover over 90 percent of their original range, and more than 172,000 acres are already protected in parks. Yet these attract pathetically few tourists. According to Smithsonian Magazine, Redwood National Park - whose $1.9 billion price was the most expensive federal land purchase ever - only attracts occasional "park and pee" visitors.

Not surprisingly, therefore, Californians consistently voted against a Headwaters buyout. But not even popular opposition thwarts Congress' determination to purchase everything in sight, now that Republican resistance to green megalomania has vanished. Before Headwaters, it was a Democratically controlled legislature that passed the 1994 California Desert Protection Act, mandating the purchase of 750,000 acres of private land. Last year, it was a Republican legislature that authored the Omnibus Parks and Public Lands Management Act, calling for millions more on real estate.

And this is a mystery: Nationally, wilderness, parks and wildlife sanctuaries total nearly four times the combined area of New York, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Rhode Island. Yet both parties keep adding more. Why?

Why do elected representatives continue to nationalize real estate when, as the experience of the former Soviet Empire demonstrated, public ownership is a recipe for economic and ecologic disaster? Why do greens want more public land when they know that governments have black thumbs? Why do the media characterize private ownership as reactionary, when it is the principal institution that distinguishes the United States from, say, North Korea?

The answer to these mysteries is: America has become more like its former communist adversaries precisely because they collapsed.

So long as the Cold War raged, Congress had plenty of excuses to extend the powers of central government. Now that socialism has capitulated, politicians embrace a new enemy, whose presence justifies an even-greater expansion: the environment. Just as America's struggle with the Soviets was over real estate, so too, this green war concerns who controls the land.

In his 1961 bestseller, "Afilcan Genesis," writer Robert Ardrey observed that "the drive to gain, maintain and defend the exclusive right to a piece of property is an animal instinct approximately as ancient and powerful as sex."

We live in a permissive age, where land, like sex, is pursued without limit. Under the guise of environmental protection, a mostly urbanite society, insatiably seeking space, uses federal acquisitions as a weapon against a dwindling rural population for control of territory.

Hence, as the battle for the environment replaces the war on communism, the conflict is transformed into a struggle between city and country. And thanks to incessant federal land grabs, rural America, including its flora and fauna, is losing.

Alston Chase's column is distributed by Creators Syndicate Inc., 5777 W. Century Blvd., Suite 700, Los Angeles, CA 90045; (3101337-7003.

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