(From: Trends in federal landownership and management : hearing before the Committee on Resources, House of Representatives, One Hundred Fourth Congress, first session, on the effect that federal ownership and management of public lands and the condemnation and restriction of private property has on local areas, March 2, 1995--Washington, D.C.)



Thursday, March 2, 1995

Thank you Mr. Chairman for the opportunity to testify today.

My name is John Baranek. I am the president and general manager of a family farming corporation in Courtland, California. My grandfather first bought land in the Courtland area in 1890. We incorporated as a family run operation in 1921, and I am the third generation steward of the land. We farm 600 acres of wine grapes and manage 230 acres of levees, sloughs, and riparian habitat.

There are two points I would like to make today by sharing with the committee my personal experiences. First, I would like to demonstrate that the best steward of the land is the private land owner. Second, I believe the Fish and Wildlife Service should be required to have specific enabling legislation to create refuges and establish boundaries for them.

Our operation and those of our neighbors have always taken a proactive approach to management of private property in order to maximize its value for both agricultural and wildlife purposes.

We established the North Delta Conservancy, which is a local public land trust, a 501c3 non-profit corporation. Through private initiative, we are seeking to establish a thriving wildlife area which serves as an important stopover for thousands of ducks and other waterfowl on the pacific migratory flyway. We are educating and involving other land owners in the value of seasonal wetlands in flooding crop residues that have high value to feeding migratory waterfowl.

These private efforts are the best that can be done at Stone Lakes, because actually, Stone Lakes is a lousy place for a large scale refuge.

Non-treated surface runoff from the Sacramento urban population flows through North Stone Lake, then is pumped into the Sacramento River at Freeport. The California State Water Resources Control Board has cited the section of the Sacramento River from Freeport to Hood adjacent to the refuge a candidate for "Toxic Hot Spot."

Virtually the entire refuge area floods in wet years, most recently in 1986, and earlier this year in 1995. Pictured here with me is the 1986 flood, which as you can see covers essentially the entire refuge area. This acts as a death trap for species that hibernate in the winter, such as the giant garter snake, which may drown before it is able to reach the surface and seek out high ground.

The area is designated a flood retardation basin, and cannot be zoned for residential or commercial development. Much of the area stands in the path of the city of Sacramento's urban sprawl, but it cannot be developed because of the frequent flooding. There is no need for federal bureaucrats, backed up by big city environmentalists, to "save" Stone Lakes. My family and my neighbors are doing just fine living among the ducks and other wildlife, and have been for well over one hundred years.

Fish and Wildlife began its involvement in this case by creating an "Interagency Policy Group" to assist with its initial plans, which were supposed to be limited to only the North Stone Lake area. This "Group," which was made up of nine government bureaucrats and zero local land owners, misrepresented to the public the true magnitude of their plans.

We as land owners felt comfortable with the original 5,000 acre refuge in North Stone Lake, most of which was already under a combination of state and county public ownership. To our surprise, at a meeting of the, Sacramento County Board of supervisors, we were introduced to a 74,000 acre study area as a proposed refuge! We became irate, and were able to convince the Supervisors to require Fish and Wildlife to add two directors from local reclamation districts to the "Group" membership. They were added to the "Group," which then never held another meeting!

Overwhelming public opposition forced Fish and Wildlife to reduce the 74,000 acre proposal to a 9,000 acre core area, with an additional 9,000 acre cooperative management area that you see here on this map. However, the current proposal is still well in excess of the 5,000 acre plan that was originally presented.

Fish and Wildlife acted in bad faith and is a bad neighbor. Unfortunately, their desire for centralized power and control is far more important than being honest and considerate to residents of the affected areas.

Throughout this process, the Service has proclaimed they are not enemies of property owners, because of the policy of purchasing. only from willing sellers. Mr. Chairman, "willing seller" is a farce. It is a cruel hoax on land owners. It is part of the overall plan to bleed property owners dry, until they have no option but to sell, and no one to sell to except the New Lords of the Manor, the Fish and Wildlife Service.

When this refuge was created by the stroke of a pen from some bureaucrat in Portland, Oregon, property values of inholders became subject to reduced value due to lack of demand for the property. No one in the farming community is interested in purchasing land that comes under the influence of Fish and Wildlife refuge regulations. A part of the banking process to establish crop loans is to use land as collateral to guarantee the loan. Banks are less willing to lend once a government agency has cast a cloud over the future of a piece of property.

Mr. Chairman, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service is a two-faced, power hungry bureaucracy bent on grabbing land however they can. If the staff is spread too thin, they will shortchange another program. If they face owners unwilling to sell, they cast; a regulatory cloud over private property. If their goals for a project are requested by local residents, they refuse to issue a comprehensive management plan.

This agency should be required to follow the same process as the Forest Service, the Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management requiring enabling legislation establishing refuge boundaries specifically authorized by Congress.

In the case of Stone Lakes, private land owners have done a much better job of managing their land than Fish and Wildlife could ever hope to do. The Service is so busy grabbing land that they face a substantial and ongoing deficit in operational funding, as you can see from the "Report to Region One Employees" attached.

Mr. Chairman, I ask the committee today to put a leash on the Fish and Wildlife Service. Stop them before they steal again.


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