Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

D.C. vs. the Wide Open West

The relationship between the people who inhabit those spaces and their distant and often distrusted imperial government.

One of the great ironies of life in mountain and desert states is that many of the people you meet are either escapees or descendants of the East Coast—but they ended up in a place where Washington, D.C., has an enormous presence. The federal government owns more than 60 percent of Alaska and "46.4 percent of the 11 coterminous western states," the Congressional Research Service reported in 2012. Elsewhere in the U.S., by contrast, the feds' share is just 4 percent.

To say the feds "manage" these lands is an affront to clear language. As Shawn Regan, a former Park Service ranger turned scholar at the Property and Environment Research Center, wrote in The Wall Street Journal in April 2015, "the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management lose $2 billion each year" in the effort.

Some of that property is just more or less being hoarded. Almost 10 million acres of federal land in the West—roughly equivalent to the combined area of Connecticut and New Hampshire—is "entirely landlocked, and can be accessed only with the permission of the neighboring private landowners," according to the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. That means plots that have theoretically been put aside for public use instead serve as some very lucky people's backyards.

Resisting this federal overreach and mismanagement can be dangerous, as the Bundy family of Nevada and the Hammond family of Oregon discovered when they ran afoul of D.C. officials over grazing rights and fire suppression, respectively. Most media outlets told the public that the Bundys were violent fanatics and the Hammonds were arsonists. It was only when their cases went to trial that word leaked out that the feds had played fast and loose with the expectations of justice by hiding exculpatory evidence from defense counsel, wildly overcharging defendants with crimes that didn't fit the facts, and lying about the use of snipers and other provocative and potentially lethal conduct.

That human lives were at stake is clear from the shooting death of Arizona rancher LaVoy Finicum as a result of the 2016 Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation. That standoff started as a radicalized Ammon Bundy and members of his D.C.-skeptical Citizens for Constitutional Freedom protesting the arrest and imprisonment of Dwight and Steven Hammond in their dispute with the federal government. While Finicum was publicly fingered by officials as the instigator of the lethal encounter, an independent investigation by Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson led to the indictment of an FBI agent for failing to report firing two rounds that may have triggered the deadly incident. The agent was acquitted, but an FBI agent at the scene does appear to have fired on the occupiers. Sheriff Nelson lamented that FBI actions like those "damage the integrity of the entire law enforcement profession." Jurors later acquitted seven Malheur protesters in a wild courtroom scene that culminated in the tasing and tackling of a defense attorney by federal marshals after he demanded that his victorious client be released.

The trial of Cliven, Ammon, and Ryan Bundy over their 2014 standoff with federal officials, meanwhile, shuddered to a halt after Larry Wooten, a lead investigator and case agent for the government, wrote an 18-page memo charging that Bureau of Land Management Special Agent in Charge Dan Love, the Bundys' nemesis, had decided to "command the most intrusive, oppressive, large scale, and militaristic" operation possible. Wooten added that his "investigation also indicated excessive use of force, civil rights and policy violations," and he alleged that prosecutors covered up misconduct and suppressed evidence that might have helped the defense.

Earlier prosecutions of other defendants in the Bundy standoff had already resulted in a deadlocked jury and acquittals. This time, even before Wooten's memo, U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro had suspended proceedings out of concern that the feds were flouting evidentiary rules. On January 8, 2018, she dismissed all charges because of "flagrant prosecutorial misconduct."

President Donald Trump seemingly brought these shameful episodes to a close when he pardoned the Hammonds in July 2018, but Western resentment over federal control of much of the landscape and resources here still simmers. At its root is a conflict of visions about the use of beautiful and unforgiving open spaces, but also about the relationship between the people who inhabit those spaces and their distant and often distrusted imperial government.

Photo Credit: Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ReadyKilowatt||

    Another issue is that the Federal government doesn't pay property taxes. As most schools are funded though property tax one would think the more land mass in a district the more money available. But not if that land is Uncle Sam's. Oh sure, the BLM and Forest Service voluntarily pay some amount to the locals every year that could be considered a property tax equivalent, but who determines what the value of the property is? There is plenty of Forest Service land near ski resorts that is potentially worth billions of dollars (and you bet land owners lobby hard to keep it off the market), and scrubland that isn't even worth homesteading.

    Every election there's a proposal to increase property taxes for schools (Colorado's TABOR law requires tax increases to be put up for vote) because the state's schools are eternally "woefully underfunded." But when you compare the landmass to an eastern state such as Pennsylvania you'd think Colorado school coffers would be overflowing. But no, because over 50% of the land is owned by Uncle Sam.

  • James Pollock||

    "Another issue is that the Federal government doesn't pay property taxes. As most schools are funded though property tax"

    The federal government also does not put children into the local schools. That's a wash.

  • Sevo||

    "The federal government also does not put children into the local schools. That's a wash."

    That's bullshit.

  • BigT||

    Where are the kids the Feds put into local schools? Not a good argument.

    Businesses don't put kids into local schools, but still pay property taxes.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Well, the argument used to be that prosperous people who owned land were better served by a literate populace, but since the public school system doesn't teach kids to read anymore, save by accident, that kind falls by the way....

  • James Pollock||

    Hmm.
    I recall the argument being that prosperous people, in general, have more to lose from inadequate police or fire protection.

  • TangoDelta||

    And as California and the, sigh, Kardashian/West's have so easily proved, government is only capable of providing inadequate police and fire protection.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Commifornia let hundreds of millions of dollars in property burn.

    All to be asborbed by insurance companies. The smaller ones going out of business.

    California will be able to skew insurance rates to keep their CA property owners in lower rates while the rest of the nation that takes fire prevention seriously, to pay more.

  • Duke of url||

    I homeschool my kids, AND pay ridiculously high property taxes.

  • James Pollock||

    The counties of South Western Oregon are mostly federal forestlands. They also have the lowest property taxe rates in Oregon.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Wow. You mean lands with lower populations and limited municipal services have lower property tax rates? Astounding.

  • James Pollock||

    "Wow. You mean lands with lower populations and limited municipal services have lower property tax rates?"

    Wow. Not in Oregon, they don't. SW Oregon's counties aren't anywhere NEAR the lowest population density. That would be SouthEAST Oregon.

    Multnomah County, by far the most populated county in the state, falls in the middle of the list (the home values are higher, so the total tax bill is higher, but the rate is lower)

    The reason is complicated. Property tax rates are capped, and a complicated tax reduction measure was passed a couple of decades ago that also capped the rate of increase of assessed values.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Pollack, Your citation fell off troll, as usual.

  • James Pollock||

    Oh, noes. The troll thinks I'm a troll.

  • James Pollock||

    (And also the troll doesn't know how to use an Internet search engine, apparently.)

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Poor troll from Volokh.

  • 0x1000||

    Neither do I

  • James Pollock||

    Cool. Me either. Now if only we had the sovereign power of the federal government, we could except ourselves from property taxes, too.

  • 0x1000||

    Isn't that the argument? That it comes down to power and force, instead of efficacy and ethics? And that that's a bad thing?

  • James Pollock||

    Vote with your feet. VERY low property taxes in Somalia, or Guatamala.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    We'll just Make America Great Again by taking it back from Lefties.

  • CE||

    So, couples without kids and couples with kids who've graduated should get a pass too?

  • CE||

    to answer myself, of course they should.

    Parents with kids should support schools through tuition payments.

    People concerned that some kids' parents can't afford school can establish scholarship funds, or offer schools through their churches.

  • susancol||

    And folks without children should not have any tax funding from the children of others, right? After all, looks like you plan to sponge off of my children (SS and MC and all being a large Ponzi scheme).. Oh, and maybe you can pay extra at the doctor's office for the extra home education provided by my husband and I that fit them to go to professional school, and the tuition we paid for them to be able to save your life.

    This level of "not my problem" argument is embarrassing for a sight called "reason".

  • Johnny Lawrence||

    I certainly don't count on SS or MC being viable by the time I retire.

    As to your "pay extra" comments—huh?

    You *chose* to home-school your kids. Good do you! Why should others pay you for that? Under CE's formulation, you wouldn't have had to pay for tuition—that's the fiscal advantage—not forcing others to pay you for a voluntary decision.

    And you *chose* to pay for your kids to go to professional school—similarly, I chose to pay my own way through professional school. The payoff is in selling my services to those who voluntarily choose to buy them.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Why should homeschooling parents pay for other kids to be dummer and brain washed?

    Either we want kids to receive subsidies for school or we dont. Since this is a Libertarian commenteriat, most of us dont want taxpayers to foot the bill for public schools.

    Lower taxes and let parents pay for their kid's school.

  • James Pollock||

    "Why should homeschooling parents pay for other kids to be dummer"

    We want them to be smarter than you.

    If the young-uns get educated, they are literate and employable. If the young-uns are literate and employable, they grow up to be productive members of society. If they're productive members of society, they don't need to be supported by others who are. See how that's better?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Poor troll pollack. His public school failed him in communist china.

  • Johnny Lawrence||

    Are you asking me? I don't think they should—that's my point. I'm more aligned with CE's viewpoint.

    Susancol seems to object to the: "if you don't use schools, you shouldn't have to pay for it approach." (S)he seems to think even more taxes are necessary—forcing others to compensate her/him for decisions she made voluntarily (like paying for professional school).

  • Sometimes a Great Notion||

    I started paying taxes at 11, only used 4 years of public school, and have no kids. What do I owe/get back? Can I pay/get a one time buyout?

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    You sir are an environmental hero. Go get yourself a gasguzzler.

  • Sometimes a Great Notion||

    I started paying taxes at 11, only used 4 years of public school, and have no kids. What do I owe/get back? Can I pay/get a one time buyout?

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Your kids don't have to. Just give me back the money that was forcibly expropriated from me for Social Security, and I'll be on my way.

  • jcbinok||

    I think it's totally valid that parents with kids in school should pay more in school taxes; a 2-tiered system. Seems obvious.

  • JFree||

    This is just bullshit. The existence of schools affects land value whether one has kids or not - because even if you don't have kids, the next purchaser of your land likely does/will and the market price for that property is going to almost entirely driven by location location location.

    Same goes for roads, post office, nearby airport/etc, police/fire, etc. Basically many of the things that are provided by muni/local/county govt. And that are really destroyed by the large fed tracts of land in the West. One of the biggest boondoggles in the US is the idea that landowners should get all those services for free - and pocket all the gains in land value for themselves (without paying taxes on that either). That is actually a weird holdover from English feudalism where the landed aristocracy suck on the tit of govt and the serfs are burdened by govt - ameliorated only by the 'middle-class' notion that one can be both landed and a serf.

    Schools should have split funding. Facilities/etc paid by prop tax - curriculum and classroom material by parents/endowment. This would solve a ton of probs too.

  • Agammamon||

    Neither do I - so can I stop paying property tax?

  • James Pollock||

    Well, property tax rates are usually set at the local level. Get together with your neighbors and vote yourself a tax cut.

  • 0x1000||

    This is such bullshit. "My neighbors" are a disparate group of several hundred thousand people. The only way to "get together with" them is a several hundred-thousand dollar campaign to engage the news / entertainment industry and play politics.

    No nuance, no philosophy, just soundbites & lawyers.

    Property taxes are consistently unpopular and yet exist almost everywhere. The tax is imposed and not in any way voluntary. Politics is probably the worst way to make decisions there could be. Worse even than rolling dice because some idiots can be convinced to trust that it might work this time.

  • James Pollock||

    "This is such bullshit. 'My neighbors' are a disparate group of several hundred thousand people."

    How is that my fault? You decided where to live, right?

  • 0x1000||

    Where I chose to live (which, believe it or not, was not chosen with regard to confiscatory taxes) has no bearing on the efficacy of voting for freedom. As I explained.

    So it's still bullshit and your 'argument' is non-sequitar.

  • James Pollock||

    "Where I chose to live (which, believe it or not, was not chosen with regard to confiscatory taxes)"

    Now that's my fault, too?

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    There should be no property taxes on primary domiciles.

  • Longtobefree||

    Neither do child-free individuals - - - - - - - -

  • James Pollock||

    Not all education services are consumed by children.

  • ReadyKilowatt||

    As an old friend of mine once stated so well, "The reason landowners pay for schools is so the little delinquents don't break in and steal your s*** while you're at work."

    I have no school-age children, yet I pay school property taxes. I know that in an ideal world parents would have to pay for their children's education out of pocket, but I'm not talking about the ideal world.

  • Agammamon||

    How is the Federal government going to pay taxes except by taking money from one group of citizens and giving it to another? Like it does right now.

  • CE||

    auction off all those vast tracts of land?

  • CE||

    and all those federal buildings for the non-essential federal employees?

  • Agammamon||

    Then they wouldn't be paying any more tax.

  • James Pollock||

    And after the forest products and mining companies have to lay off half of their employees because now they have to pay market rates to get access to their raw materials?

  • 0x1000||

    Well, obviously someone hasn't read Bastiat.

    Here's one you'll probably like: pay them to dig holes and fill them back in! With spoons! Hell, we can even tie one arm behind their back. Imagine the manpower needed for such a feat— but especially the immense value produced!

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    You know what's an even better stimulant to the economy? War, and lots of it! Have them build tanks and planes. Then they can meet in open battle. But so no one gets hurt, they can just abandon the battlefield before the battle and blow up all the tanks and planes. The economy will boom like it did during WW2.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Good thing Trump is pulling out of syria and afghanistan.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    After decades of draconian restrictions around family planning, China is now encouraging couples to have more kids as a matter of patriotic urgency.

    Things are a bit different in a Communist nation like China. They're Imperial Government uses Communism to control nearly every aspect of Chinese lives.

    Socialism taken to the next step.

    I will take our Constitutional Democratic Republic any day.

  • CE||

    We pay higher taxes.

  • James Pollock||

    We make higher wages.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Not all wages are taxed.

  • James Pollock||

    and that makes them lower?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Wages not taxed as high, means higher income.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    The main problem is that "managing" federal land varies from Congress to Congress and administration to administration.

    There is a huge difference between building and maintaining walking paths and roads into federal land than seizing cattle or sending in poachers to wipe out buffalo.

    I am not against the federal government controlling wide swaths of land for everyone to enjoy. You have to let everyone enjoy the land though. Tourists, ranchers, hunters, hippies, Satanists... everyone.

  • 0x1000||

    No, of course you're not, because you're a collectivist at heart. Even after you ostensibly read an article showing it doesn't work, and lamenting that people from far away (GA counts as far away) have strong opinions on how people here live their lives.

    You know sometimes it's ok to just not comment. Mark Twain has a quote about it. Look him up.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Poor Lefties hate the truth. They troll and they troll.

  • James Pollock||

    You hate the truth. You troll and troll.

    You are a poor leftie, QED.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Pollack the troll is on his communist china time.

  • 0x1000||

    More of that wierd third-person stuff. It's like some sort of errantly-vocalized internal role-play. Creepy.

  • CE||

    Private companies like Disney and other resorts control vast tracts of land for everyone who pays to enjoy. Seems like a better path to finding the best economic value of the land.

    Environmentalists can (and do) band together to buy lands for wildlife preservation.

  • James Pollock||

    "Seems like a better path to finding the best economic value of the land."

    ... assuming finding the best economic value of land is the purpose of government. We're all assuming that, right?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Not national park and BLM kind of tracts of land.

    Disney aint that rich.

  • TJJ2000||

    "for everyone to enjoy" -- That's called a National Park not "Federal Land". No one enjoys federal land except the federal government be it utterly vacant, nuclear waste, or charging rental fees for mining/grazing.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    If armed federal bureaucrats can't use shock and awe against the unwashed indigenous in the lands DC has colonized, there will be chaos.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Kinda LIKE chaos, myself.....

  • Ken Shultz||

    "Almost 10 million acres of federal land in the West—roughly equivalent to the combined area of Connecticut and New Hampshire—is "entirely landlocked, and can be accessed only with the permission of the neighboring private landowners"

    There's this thing called a Piper Cub, and I want to build one.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bBj9h3-5hg

  • CE||

    or helicopters, or human-carrying drones, technology we've had for 4 or 5 years, if it were legal

  • susancol||

    It's been more than 30 years since I took Property Law 101, but I seem to recall there was a legal right to an "easement of necessity" (or similar term . . . I'm not looking up law on Christmas Eve!) for landlocked property . . .

  • Stephen Lathrop||

    Backed in at least some instances by state laws, by the way.

  • James Pollock||

    "'the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management lose $2 billion each year' in the effort."

    That's a subsidy to the wood products and mining businesses that harvest the resources of the public lands at far below market rates.

  • TJJ2000||

    If it was "far below" then no one would want to purchase/control it. You're basically saying "landlords" are subsidizing "renters" and if you believe that I've got a high-priced rental I'll subsidize you in.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "To say the feds "manage" these lands is an affront to clear language."

    It isn't just that "managing" these lands loses money, and it isn't just that the government unreasonably restricts the land's use. It's also that the government mostly fails at protecting our natural resources the way average taxpayers imagine.

    The taxpayers who support the Park Service, the BLM, the Fish and Wildlife Service, etc. largely do so because they imagine that those entities are protecting the land and its resources from private development, but that just isn't so.

    The Park Service culls the last of the truly wild buffalo herd in Yellowstone every year so that they don't compete with local ranchers who graze their cattle on federal land. The BLM rounds up and gets rid of Mustangs, some of which have ended up in slaughterhouses in Mexico, for the same reason. The Fish and Wildlife service wiped out half the endangered California sea otter population in a failed attempt to move them because the otters competed with the sushi industry for sea urchins.

    The misperception that these agencies exist to protect wildlife from industry is the cause of a lot of unnecessary grief. The fact is that these federal agencies exist to protect the industry from environmentalists as much as they protect natural resources from industry. That's the way pluralistic democracy works, which, unfortunately, isn't necessarily the best strategy for conservation (see "tragedy of the commons").

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Great comment, Ken.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Meanwhile, there's no easier way to destroy a wilderness area than to declare it a National Park and bring in millions of visitors from all over the world every year--who wouldn't go there otherwise.

    Thank goodness they were able to shut most of Zion to road traffic. It's probably too late to save Yosemite from tourism that way. The last, best chance to save a place like Yosemite may be to sell it lock, stock, and barrel to a private company--I'd ask Disney if they were interested. I don't care if the government gives it away for a song so long as the property ends up in private hands.

    Give it to a private charity like the Nature Conservancy. Give our big park treasures to a private organization like the American Prairie Reserve.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A.....ie_Reserve

    Let the ranchers bid on the rest.

    That land can be protected or exploited for its highest use--whether that use is ranching, mining, tourism, or conservation. It just takes this crazy idea called "private property". People who would rather not privatize our national treasures--even if that were the only way to save it from destruction--have no business calling themselves "environmentalists".

  • BigT||

    Sure. Sell off all that crap in the Smithsonian as well. And the National Gallery and National Archives and Library of Congress. Why not?

    Because the private owners would not necessarily keep those things available for all to enjoy or preserve. Book and artifact burning could include the Declaration and Constitution and Spirit of St Louis. Old Faithful could be harnessed for geothermal energy.

    No thanks.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "Because the private owners would not necessarily keep those things available for all to enjoy or preserve."

    You don't seem to appreciate that public access is what's destroying the treasures I'm talking about. If the Park Service exists for the purpose of providing relatively wealthy Americans and foreign tourists with cheap vacations, then let's say so. Meanwhile, let's let the champions of our national treasures extol the virtues of private property--the best aspect of which from a conservation standpoint is the ability of property owners to exclude the general public.

    Oh, and if Disney owned Yosemite, the chances of them excluding the general public would be remote. Much more likely they maximize the number of tourists who can enter--while restricting access to areas and resources they own that are being harmed by the influx of millions of tourists. The fact of the matter is that this balance isn't best achieved by deferring to bureaucrats that answer to elected politicians. The property balance is best achieved by private owners making smart decisions about how to best exploit and protect their own property.

  • Ken Shultz||

  • loveconstitution1789||

    The constitution allows for Article I...To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries;

    Why wouldnt protecting natural art be protectable?

  • BigT||

    "If the Park Service exists for the purpose of providing relatively wealthy Americans and foreign tourists with cheap vacations, then let's say so. "

    And then you refer to Disney. Have you priced a trip to Disney lately? Those parks are beyond the means of very many Americans while the parks are relatively inexpensive and within reach for many more. Are you suggesting more people could afford a Disney owned Yosemite?

    I visited our local National Park 5 or 6 times this year - total cost $0.

    Public ownership with private management may be the best solution.

  • Agammamon||

    If you enjoy them so much - then you'll be willing to pay for their upkeep.

    If you're not willing to pay for their upkeep then perhaps its because you don't see them bringing you any value?

    BigT - are you for historical preservation districts also? Where government's take control of people's property because its passed an arbitrary threshhold of age or 'uniqueness'?

    Maybe you'd support mandatory culture? Where people are mandated to live in a certain way to preserve 'dying' cultures?

  • Ken Shultz||

    I might add that these resources are being destroyed.

    Why pretend we're preserving these resources at taxpayer expense when we're actually destroying them?

    Anyone who's in favor of continuing to destroy our national treasures at taxpayer expense should come out and say so. The idea that these places (like Yosemite) are being conserved for future generations is delusional. We're consuming those resources now so that future generations can go fuck themselves.

  • BigT||

    My point is that there are some things and places that we just cannot trust private owners to respect and preserve. Not every private owner acts responsibly to use something without destroying it.

    A few years ago Mr T ( no relation) purchased a splendid property near Chicago that included a magnificent stand of old trees. He proceeded to have them all cut down to improve his view or something. If someone buys Yellowstone you would agree that he can do whatever he pleases with the property, including clear cut it and build a geothermal power station because it's his.

    Not everyone is motivated by preservation, conservation, or even value maximization. Some things are too valuable and unique to be left to the madding crowd. Maybe we have over-protected Alaska and much of the West, but I'd be loathe to auction off everything.

  • BigT||

    I'm sure government is mis-managing many things (that's what government does!) but knee-jerk privatization is a crap shoot. Maybe government owned, privately managed sites are the answer, like the government laboratories. Dunno.

  • James Pollock||

    " Maybe government owned, privately managed sites are the answer, like the government laboratories. Dunno."

    Pop into the Hanford reach area of Washington, if you're curious about government-owned, privately-managed lands in practice. Westinghouse is cleaning up the radioactive mess created there.

  • BigT||

    Agammamon, historical districts should be a lot like homeowners associations - rules are developed and you know what they are when you move in. Retroactively imposing these rules is where things get sticky.

    In my town the school system is growing and needs additional space. So some years ago the city passed an ordinance that homes abutting the schools could be sold only to the district. They pay a substantial premium over market value. The current owners are not forced to leave, however. It's far from ideal, but better than conventional eminent domain.

    The key is that when the state restricts your use of your property you should be compensated beyond mere market value. It's the best solution I have encountered.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "So some years ago the city passed an ordinance that homes abutting the schools could be sold only to the district. They pay a substantial premium over market value."

    These statements contradict each other.

  • James Pollock||

    The market value of a house that can't be sold would be fairly low, so, yeah, a premium would be appropriate.

  • BigT||

    The market value is determined by comparable units that are not abutting the schools. That's how real estate is valued when the unit in question is not on the market.

  • Ken Shultz||

    If they were paying a premium over market value, they could just outbid anyone else in the market.

    They put those restrictions on selling those houses to anyone but the government for various reasons. One of them is probably because they don't want to have to pay for those houses all at the same time. If the city doesn't have the money to close this year or next year or for the next ten years, well, you'll just have to wait. That is not fair market value by anyone's definition outside of government.

    When government restricts bidding to only one contractor, the person who did that goes to prison because it's corrupt. That they're effectively eminent domaining this property without actually paying for it yet should be unconstitutional. At best, it's morally wrong.

    Regardless, they aren't paying a premium on market value if they're also restricting anyone else from bidding on the property. Paying fair market value doesn't require that. It just requires you to outbid the other bidders. Something you're saying is off somewhere. There's an inherent contradiction in those two statements.

  • ||

    The Nature Conservancy ends up donating most of the land it purchases to the federal or state governments.

    Very little is kept and manged by it. It is a land buyer and consolidator not a land manager.

  • Ken Shultz||

    That land should be privatized anyway.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    The Nature Conservancy is also known for allowing oil drilling on their lands and pocketing royalties.

  • Ken Shultz||

    As well they should.

    The point isn't to protect land that shouldn't be protected, and if the best use of that drilled oil is to sell it and use the proceeds to purchase environmentally sensitive land, then that's exactly what a smart and honest environmentalist organization should do.

  • BigT||

    "the best use"

    You use that phrase as if it can be objectively determined. What if someone decides the best use of the oil is to excavate a big hole and have himself an oil pond? And then one night decides that during his party he'll set it on fire to entertain his guests? (I know crude doesn't burn well)

    Government is a necessary evil that can never be perfect because Man is not perfect.

  • Ken Shultz||

    You ignore the term and its implications.

    In commercial real estate, we talk about properties reverting to their highest and best use all the time. The highest and best use is typically associated with the most profit. Does it want to be residential, retail, office, industrial warehouse?

    The same principle applies to questions of whether a piece of land's highest and best use is as ranchland, tourism, or conservation, and the way to tell that isn't by some bureaucrat in Washington telling us so. The best way is to let market signals tell us.

    If the highest and best use of that land--to the American people--is to return it to its natural states as an undisturbed prairie to reintroduce wild bison herds, native plant species, and other aspects of the ecology, in an area the size of the state of Connecticut, then that's the use that will emerge from privatization in a market.

    Here it is:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A.....ie_Reserve

    Deal with it.

  • James Pollock||

    "In commercial real estate, we talk about properties reverting to their highest and best use all the time. The highest and best use is typically associated with the most profit."

    OK, fine... in the context of commercial real estate. But once you move out of the realm of commercial real estate, maybe not.

    The problem is that sometimes it's possible to pass costs to other people, while holding on to the profits. This throws off the market calculations.
    The second consideration is system effects. All that land in Manhattan is valuable, but so much of it is "wasted" as streets. But if you don't have any streets, you can't move in people and goods, and the value of the land drops. Private ownership of the streets isn't very efficient, either, though, as a tollbooth every couple hundred yards really limits the volume of traffic you can move. Owning the strip of street right in front of the tunnel entrance would be really nice... as nice as owning the tunnel itself, without the cost of building or maintaining the tunnel.

    So "let the market decide" is fine for some land, but not all land.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Even organizations like the Nature Conservancy will actually resell donated ranch land to other ranchers and use the proceeds to finance the purchase of lands that are more important for reasons of ecology and conservation--as well they should.

    Only the government is so stupid as to let people drill for oil in land for which the highest and best use is conservation and conserve land for which the highest and best use is drilling for oil. And that's because so long as the land is owned by the government, it's effectively shielded from the influence of market forces and price signals.

    If you don't understand this stuff, go educate yourself.

  • BigT||

    "In commercial real estate, we talk about properties reverting to their highest and best use all the time."

    The best use of numerous buildings in Detroit is apparently as crack houses or abandonment.

    "The highest and best use is typically associated with the most profit."

    I'm sure the Tetons would be more profitable as a ski resort, and Disney could have animatronic bears in Yellowstone to generate serious revenue. How do you square that with conservation?

    Conservation, as your link demonstrates, takes land out of the market forever. And, of course, drives up the price of comparable lands (like beachfront properties), seriously distorting the market.

    "Only the government is so stupid as to let people drill for oil in land for which the highest and best use is conservation and conserve land for which the highest and best use is drilling for oil"

    It seems to me that oil production always generates more profits than conservation. Is that not then the 'best use?' Oil production and conservation need not be exclusionary.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "The best use of numerous buildings in Detroit is apparently as crack houses or abandonment."

    Yeah, last I heard, the fire department won't even put out fires in a building unless they can verify that it's occupied. Otherwise, they just try to stop it from spreading. What's your point? That the highest and best use of land is sometimes to do nothing? That land can, in fact, be worth less than the cost of property taxes and insurance?

  • Ken Shultz||

    "I'm sure the Tetons would be more profitable as a ski resort, and Disney could have animatronic bears in Yellowstone to generate serious revenue. How do you square that with conservation?"

    The fact that Yosemite already attracts 7 million visitors a year because of what isn't built there seems to escape you, but I doubt Disney suffers from the same problem.

    If tourism (skiing) can generate more revenue than conservation, then, yeah, the land goes to tourism.

    Meanwhile, the taxpayers are spending billions every year on federal agencies that they imagine are doing conservation but are actually destroying our natural resources by serving the interests of drillers, miners, ranchers, fishermen, tourists, and others. Meanwhile, conservation groups are raising and spending money to conserve land--but they can't get at a lot of it because it "belongs" to federal agencies. Those agencies are "protecting it" from conservationists and letting industry use it.

    Conservationists will pay more for land that they think is best suited for conservation and they will win out if they can outbid the other uses. It's these interests competing with each other that makes the highest and best use prevail--whether it be tourism (skiing), drilling, conservation, or some other use.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Give yourself a pat on the back if you get to the point where you understand that the BLM, Park Service, and F&W Service aren't about conservation per se. It's probably too much to hope that you understand the tragedy of the commons or highest and best use--because that requires education. I'm not an educator, and I'm not getting paid for this. If you can't count to ten, why should you expect to understand how these functions are derived and integrated? If you want to learn how to do calculus, you need to learn some basic math first.

    Here's a link:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highest_and_best_use

    There's a lot of good stuff in there, but it's predicated on knowledge that you don't seem to possess. Nobody's about to make you learn that stuff. You have to go learn it for yourself.

  • BigT||

    Ken, you are missing the point. As wiki says: " The exact definition of highest and best use varies, but generally the use must be the following: legally permissible, physically possible, financially feasible, maximally productive"

    That makes sense for a city property with no intangible or historic or conservation value to be considered. What of wetlands on the migration routes of birds? Independence Hall? Ford Theater? Old Faithful?

    Who decides how to measure productivity? I'm certain the hot springs of Yellowstone would be more 'productive ' generating power. The 'best use' only takes into account current cash flow. That's extremely shortsighted.

    I won't defend the administration of the parks etc., as I'm sure private mgt would be more efficient.

    I'm a bit surprised and disappointed to see your ad hominem - you are usually above that. My calculus- learned in the 1960's, used for my PhD and 40 years in R&D - is a bit rusty. But economic models are almost as useful as most climate models, IMHO.

  • Migrant Log Chipper||

    That's the stupidest assertion I've ever fucking heard. Also one of the funniest,,,,,,

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    Meanwhile, there's no easier way to destroy a wilderness area than to declare it a National Park

    For years the hardest thing to reconcile with my libertarian beliefs was the government keeping public lands from being developed, but Ken is right. The last 30 years have seen the National Parks getting immense amounts of pavement and consequently ever larger and noisier vehicles. Places that used to require effort and skill to see are now ADA compliant and the biggest challenge is seeing over all the crowds.

    I was lucky enough to have made the effort 30 years ago to see all the great sights in a lot of the National Parks, which required a lot of hiking, backpacking, and driving difficult roads. The effort made me value it all immensely, and I suspect the National Park has taken that away from people.

    Don't even get me started on the BLM and leasing land to 'free range cattle'. Any time I here someone extolling free range meat I'm near to going ballistic. What has been done to the stream beds in the desert has to be seen to be believed....

  • Stephen Lathrop||

    Thanks, 0.000000013%, for more informed commentary than we get from Ken Schultz.

    Schultz argues as if the choice of management methods was a matter of unfettered discretion. He wants discretion to settle on his preferred ideological solution, regardless of facts that might bypass. It's true, the hardest thing for government to do with public resources is leave them alone. But it's also true, as a matter of desperate natural need, that leaving wild land alone would be the wisest use for most of it.

    Contrary to Schultz, that is also the result that would follow politically, except that federal land management responds to distorted politics, treating money as citizen input. Loggers, ranchers, and miners—a tiny part of the nation's population—get vastly disproportionate say in what happens on public lands. Schultz's advocacy would increase that disparity.

    The solution lies in the other direction—cut industry influence back. Cut to near-zero the management of most western public lands. It would be a worthy fiscal goal, and the wisest possible conservation policy.

    Pay only to enforce wilderness rules on national forest lands, and on limited BLM lands where wilderness makes sense. Make do with existing developed mines, which mostly lie dormant. Their capacity far exceeds market demand. Halt logging on federal lands. And get livestock out of the national forests, and out of the streams everywhere. Beyond that, manage minimally. And no more national parks.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    That is a terrible idea , Ken. You should read about the history of the Yellowstone. The whole park idea was started by the railroad companies to bring tourism to Yellowstone on their trains. It was a 20 year battle in Congress to prevent them from turning Yellowstone into an obnoxious resort.

  • Longtobefree||

    And yet, in the end, Yellowstone is an obnoxious resort.
    Lots of paving to allow the 'mobility limited' access to damn near everywhere, more and more tourist accommodations replacing primitive camping, etc.

    Rather than visit, find videos on the web.

  • James Pollock||

    Try Crater Lake, instead.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Yeah, these people don't seem to understand that Disney would limit access to their own property the way they do to their parks now. We already have 7 million visitors a year to Yosemite and counting. If Disney finds a way to bring even more people to the park while doing less environmental damage, I wouldn't be surprised. What we're seeing now in Yosemite is sending the place to total destruction in our lifetimes already.

    It's as if people have never heard of tragedy of the commons. I mean, maybe they really haven't! I assure you, the reason the BLM treats Mustangs like a nuisance, the Park Service treats wild bison like a pest, and the Fish and Wildlife Service inadvertently but predictably killed almost half the population of an endangered species is because no one owns those resources or the land they inhabit. There's a solution for that!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T.....he_commons

    Everybody understands why the USSR failed, right?

    No, it wasn't because they didn't have leaders like Obama and Warren who genuinely care about animals and people. A lot of it had to do with, you guessed it! Tragedy of the Commons.

  • James Pollock||

    "Everybody understands why the USSR failed, right?"

    Because St. Ronnie called it an "Evil Empire"?

  • Migrant Log Chipper||

    Any of you morons actually been to Yellowstone? From your lack of knowledge about it I'd say no.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    It has a figure 8 two lane road through the park and small parking lots at major sightseeing points like old faithful and Yellowstone falls.

    Many tourists can see bears and buffalo from the roads on a regular basis.

    Its a compromise to tourists paying to visit Yellowstones vast size.

  • Weigel's Cock Ring||

    Many people believe that the feds are holding all this land hostage because there are massive resources there in the form of minerals and fossil fuel deposits.

    What is really going on however is the attempted implementation of Agenda 21. Anyone out there who isn't familiar with Agenda 21 really ought to research it.

    The goal of the globalist left puppet masters such as George Soros, Tom Steyer, Barack Obama, and Emmanuel Macron is to depopulate the rural areas of the world and force all of us to live in their big cities (the modern day political plantations) where everyone can be turned into a neo-feudalist, fully dependent peasant and thus easily controlled and manipulated. D.C. despises the free west because it's so far away and difficult to keep a thumb on.

  • James Pollock||

    Hahaha. Good one.
    Now parody a radical leftist.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    My name is Pollack the radical ?eftist.

  • James Pollock||

    Your spelling hasn't improved.

  • James Pollock||

    ... and your sense of humor remains hypothetical.

  • TJJ2000||

    Yep, U.N. Treaty Agenda 21. I've read it; its despicable. Its kind of like a treaty that voids the Constitution.

  • ||

    Julius Caesar lamented that Italian women (particularly the upper class) had too low a birth rate to sustain a truly "Roman" empire. Women in Rome preferred to go to orgies, get abortions (techniques readily available) and live the free life. Marriages were often arranged loveless political deals that would produce one or two heirs to be raised by third parties.

    Adolf Hitler complained about the same thing. His case against German women was even more understandable, because there was no Teutonic equivalent of Rosie the Riveter. Even good Nazi women didn't go into industrial war production, but they didn't stay home and have babies either. Fun times when Fritz could get leave, I guess, before he was killed.

    Obama went on a splurge of creating new national parks and nature preserves for this or that. Rich coastal liberals love to make fly-over country into a nature paradise for all their long-range pets that they will never visit, but they don't give a tiny damn about the people who live in those states who want to make a good living too, not just be pacified by occasional government handouts.

    The simmering populist anger in heartland states is not going away anytime soon. In fact, if you look at the way organized grievance industries usually work in America, the more "victims" mature in their victimhood status the angrier they get and the more payback they demand.

  • CE||

    Needz moar logging and housing developments.

  • OpenBordersLiberal-tarian||

    Dow dives 500 points to below 22,000 in worst Christmas Eve trading day ever

    If this abysmal economy doesn't improve, I won't be able to donate to Reason next year either.

    #DrumpfRecession
    #UnbanPalinsButtplug

  • TuIpa||

    Don't worry about getting Screech unbanned, he's been fine just using his sockpuppets since it happened.

  • OpenBordersLiberal-tarian||

    Really? Well I haven't noticed any of these alleged sockpuppets performing Mr. Buttplug's most important role of keeping us updated on how Paul Krugman's 2016 election night predictions are coming true.

  • TuIpa||

    You're busy running your tired parody account I understand if you didn't notice.

  • OpenBordersLiberal-tarian||

    Spell it out for me then. Name two currently active Reason commenters who you believe are Buttplug sockpuppets.

  • TuIpa||

    Look who suddenly got super serial.

  • TuIpa||

    I never expected Screech's obvious sockpuppeting to be the topic that made you break character and abandon your silliy parody.

  • OpenBordersLiberal-tarian||

    Mr. Buttplug is (or was) a thoughtful left-libertarian contributor with unique insights into economic issues. Although I have criticized him in the past, usually about his Islamophobia, I will defend him from unsubstantiated charges of sockpuppeting.

  • TuIpa||

    It's just such a strange thing for you to get so defensive over, especially after he admitted he had to change his screenname because he was sockpuppeting and forgot his password. Again.

    Does he know you're mounting such a vigorous defense against accusations of doing something that he has repeatedly admitted to?

  • Incomprehensible Bitching||

    Liar. Palin's butt plug did no such thing!

  • TuIpa||

    ^proper parody

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Its so hilarious that nobody even demands a citation because we all know Buttplugger said it.

  • James Pollock||

    I think you should consider the equally plausible explanation that nobody gives a damn.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Nobody gives a damn about troll like Pollack.

    We all agree.

  • James Pollock||

    So you have that in common with him.

    Except he writes better.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Poor troll.

  • James Pollock||

    Someone's gotten into YOUR head.

    Hmm. Roomy in here. Lots of unused space.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Cheap stock today and the rest of 2018. Fantastic!

    Im buying up loads of shares every day.

    When the stock prices go back up and brag about selling them to but a small island, all the Lefty trolls will still be crying anout Trump nominating a replacement for RBG.

  • IceTrey||

    How long do you think the author of that report was waiting to be able to use "coterminous"?

  • OpenBordersLiberal-tarian||

    Japan suffers biggest natural population decline ever

    This is alarming. The obvious solution to population decline is an open borders immigration policy. As a bonus, immigration — especially from Africa and the Middle East — would make Japan more diverse, which scientific studies prove is beneficial in numerous ways. Hopefully Japan realizes this before it's too late.

    #OpenBordersForJapan
    #(StillNotForIsraelThough)

  • TuIpa||

    Know what else? Screech runs a bunch of sockpuppets.

  • OpenBordersLiberal-tarian||

    He runs so many that ...... you're unable to name any of them?

    Sorry, this theory just doesn't add up. If you're going to accuse a highly respected longtime commenter of this behavior, you need more evidence. Like maybe, an example of a post where "Jeff from Minnesota" uses the expression "Aborto-freak." That might convince me.

    #UnbanPalinsButtplug
    #StopTheLiesAboutPalinsButtplug

  • TuIpa||

    All that would matter... except he admitted it so.... Yeah.

    Sorry you (strangely) took up for Screech before you found out he was an admitted sockpuppeteer.

    As to not remembering them... They're throwaways like nbd3217 or such. Why would anyone bother to remember them when he's admitted doing it?

    Sorry I ruined your Christmas.

  • TuIpa||

    Hey I found one! And it's even one Screech admitted was him!


    Sorry I ruined your Kwanzaa

  • Incomprehensible Bitching||

    Open boarders for Israel. There's nothing wrong with Israel that a few dozen million Palestinians wouldn't fix.

  • Echospinner||

    Actually that is not such a crazy idea. Variations have been proposed on a one state or "two states one land" solution by prominent Israelis including people like conservative columnist Caroline Glick. Some of these plans involve a federation between Israel and a Palestinian state with free movement of people, goods and services. Netanyahu has talked about it.

    If we pretend Hamas does not exist it might work and it makes good economic sense for everyone.

  • ||

    The problem is that if the Israeli government has a problem with Hamas, perhaps they should not have promoted them in n the first place.

  • ||

    Actually, open borders was the Palestinian's complaint about thousands of Jews (people who did not share their political, cultural and religious values) moving into the territory they had lived in for almost two thousand years.

  • Uncle Jay||

    The "Wild West" must be end.
    Saint Karl Marx quite correctly believed The State should own all, if not most, of the land in the country.
    Oh, wait...

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Technically all territory of the United States of America is controlled by the federal government.

    The states gave up complete sovereignty when joining the USA.

    You have property rights but the federal govenrment and states have territory rights. Its why they can eminent domain your ass.

    The flip side is anarchy where the tiniest dick (Sarcasmic) tries to steal your land and there is no state to help you defend it and Communism where the state takes the land that ypu think you own, likely sending you to a gulag if you dont cooperate.

  • James Pollock||

    "Technically all territory of the United States of America is controlled by the federal government."

    There are a few patches here and there that are controlled by foreign governments.

  • ||

    Only in Washington, DC.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    I always thought it would be fun to enforce "equality" and require the tree hugging states in the northeast to turn over 50% of their land to the feds for parks, forests, etc.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Like NJ? The "Pinelands National Reserve" covers almost 1 million acres (NJ is about 5.5 million total). Not to mention those lands that make up Fort Dix, McGuire AFB, and who knows what else. It doesn't get as much visibility, but the feds own land all over the place.

    And they're never keen to give up ownership. Down be me, there used to be an abandoned Air Force missile base (taken from local farms by eminent domain) - it was decommissioned when Nixon signed the ABM treaty. We used to climb fence and wander the area in the '80s. They eventually turned it over to the county in the early 2000s. Now it's (mostly) shopping centers.

    NJ's missile bases

  • Hank Phillips||

    Nice Operation Intercept footage, thanks. No wonder the Molotov-Nixon ABM Pact was so hurriedly signed in violation of 2A. Was there ANYTHING in the Bill of Rights Nixon and Agnew didn't violate?

  • TJJ2000||

    Only 50%??? I think Nevada is 86% federal land.

  • jcbinok||

    Interesting article. Thanks.

  • Hank Phillips||

    "...the agent was acquitted." Tuccille's dry brevity makes good lean reading. That the anonymous agent is likely still out there initiating deadly force needs no emphasis. What else would you expect from subsidized looter cleptocracy politicians, judges and goons?

  • newlife3.0||

    JD's the best imo.

  • No Longer Amused||

    As a point of order, the federal government does not "own" these lands. They mismanage them in the public trust.

    When I was growing up it was clearly acknowledged as "public land," but over the last 40 years there has been a steady, and quite deliberate, more to refer to them as "government" land, and now it has all erroneously referred to as "government owned."

  • TJJ2000||

    The "public trust" you're speaking of is the process of state creation in which the land is to be returned to the State. Sold/Dispersed as per Article IV of the Constitution written specifically for State Creation (obviously by Section I) and for the Land Ordinance Act of 1787.

  • ||

    I did a nice rant on how the coastal cosmopolitan virtue-flaunting elites are happy with converting vast acreages of heartland into economically sterile open-range parks for their long-range pets, and damn those strange people who live in flyover USA.

    For my pains I got called backwards, toothless, and ignorant, and no doubt living in a trailer.

    I won't call out who said that many posts ago, but I will guess that if he magically should trade domiciles with me he would be very happy indeed to live in my house and my neighborhood, and I might even be content for awhile to live in his mother's basement once I cleaned out the messy little bedroom. His mother would be coming down a lot to make me feel at home, I expect. . .

  • James Pollock||

    So, what I'm taking away from this rant is that, according to you, it's OK when YOU call people names and make fun of their (alleged) lifestyle, but when other people do that TO YOU, it's way out of bounds and not OK.

    Was that the message you intended to convey?

  • ||

    The message I am broadcasting should be clear enough and it is rather Trumpesque in principle. You insult or assault me, I hit you right back, maybe harder. Please note that I generally do not start kerfluffles, but some of us simply are not born to turn the other cheek. Not ever.

  • James Pollock||

    Ah, I see. You also meant to suggest that you're a loudmouth.
    (Acting tough on the Internet suggests that it's the only place you feel safe doing so, because the people you interact with this way are far away and thus not threatening.)

    Hint: People who ARE tough don't have to tell people how tough they are.

  • Migrant Log Chipper||

    Fuck off, troll.

  • EWM||

    "Government is an abstract. Abstracts can't own anything. Those who believe otherwise are being mind controlled at gun point.

  • TJJ2000||

    They call that Communism - Government ownership.

  • TJJ2000||

    The fact is; the federal government/environmentalists/communists have high-jacked this land against the guidelines of the U.S. Constitution.

    http:// www.legislature.idaho.gov/legislation/ 2013/ HCR022.pdf
    "WHEREAS, the United States Supreme Court has affirmed that the federal government must honor its trust obligation to extinguish title to the public lands for the sovereignty of the new state to be complete." (pg 3 line 4

    **Supreme Court upholds that the land is for sale/disposal ONLY**
    soils under them, were not granted by the Constitution to the United States, [[[but were reserved to the States respectively]]]. Thirdly, the right of the United States to the public lands, and the power of Congress to make all needful rules and regulations for the sale and disposition thereof, [[[conferred no power to grant to the plaintiffs the land in controversy]]] in this case.
    https://supreme.justia.com/ cases/ federal/us/44/212/case.html

  • TJJ2000||

    Another way to say "federal land" is to say 28% of the United States is 100% Communist.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online