VALENTINE, Neb. – “Land: see Snatch.”
On first look, the Biden Administration’s “30 x 30” plan looks like a scheme cooked up by Hedley Lamarr, the main villain from Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles.” However, far from the comedic genius of the late Harvey Korman, the new Federal land grab is a serious threat to private property owners in the United States.
And it’s moving fast.
Just a few days into office, President Joe Biden released a flurry of executive orders, among them being through Executive Order 14008, “Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad” (86 Fed. Reg. 7,619), which he signed on Jan. 27. Contained in that order is the “30 x 30” program, a radical and aggressive push forwarded by environmental and climate change activists to put 30 percent of the land and water in the United States under permanent protection by 2030.
But what 30 percent of the land will states and private landowners be forced to hand over? In Nebraska, where 97 percent of the state is privately owned property, that number is especially alarming.
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts joined 16 other state governors, including Govs. Mark Gordon of Wyoming, Kristi Noem of South Dakota, Doug Burgum of North Dakota, Greg Gianforte of Montana, and Brad Little of Idaho in a letter to Biden warning against the potential federal overreach.
“Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers are our state’s original conservationists,” Ricketts said in a news release. “They work day in and day out to cultivate the land and manage water they’ve known for generations in a way that helps grow our state.
“With a new administration taking office, Nebraskans should be on the lookout in their communities for attempts by federal agencies and their partners to regulate land and water use,” he said. “We are already seeing big changes in how the federal government is approaching energy, climate, and conservation issues.”
Property rights advocate Margaret Byfield is the executive director of American Stewards of Liberty and daughter of “Sagebrush Rebel” Wayne Hage, the man behind the first federal lands grazing case filed in the United States Court of Federal Claims. Her organization, American Stewards of Liberty, offers an email newsletter with the latest developments and information on the 30 x 30 plan.
Byfield will be giving ranchers, landowners, and county government officials strategies for fighting the 30 x 30 plan during a presentation at the Valentine High School Auditorium on Tuesday, March 9, at 6 p.m. Central (5 p.m. Mountain). All members of the public are invited to attend.
It’s just one of the many presentations she’s been putting on since 30 x 30 was released to educate and mobilize landowners and county government officials to fight back against federal overreach.
“We’ve got to get out in front of this,” Byfield said in a phone interview on March 3. “We’ve got to get people aware that this is coming down so they can make good decisions about their own property.”
Byfield said that the Biden Executive Order on climate change is scant on details about how the administration intends to accomplish that 30 percent goal, however, on the same day that the order was signed, the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI), which oversees huge swaths of government-owned land, released a fact sheet with a little bit more information [https://www.doi.gov/pressreleases/fact-sheet-president-biden-take-action-uphold-commitment-restore-balance-public-lands]. However, the DOI release lacks citations.
For example, there is no constitutional or statutory authority cited for the president, the Department of the Interior, or the Department of Agriculture, to set aside and permanently preserve 30 percent of all land and water in the U.S. and no such authority is referenced in the Executive Order.
The authority is not cited because the federal government doesn’t have it.
Also missing are citations to the science reasoning behind putting 30 percent of that land into preservation, or how specifically that could be the “cure” to the climate change question. It’s a naked and arbitrary land grab, especially given how one-third of the United States is permanently protected (12 percent land, 23 percent ocean).
WHERE DID THIS COME FROM?
Byfield said much of the Interior Department’s 30 x 30 factsheet was pulled straight from a report released by John Podesta’s liberal D.C. think tank, The Center for American Progress (CAP) [https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/green/reports/2019/08/06/473242/much-nature-america-keep/].
Byfield said CAP figured that 12 percent of the land in the U.S. is “currently protected in its natural state,” which includes wilderness areas, National Parks, wildlife refuges, and private land conservation easements.
As it stands, the DOI has 90 days from the date of the executive order to deliver a report to the White House on how it intends to carry out 30 x 30. That report is expected sometime in April, but transparency and public access to the report is not guaranteed.
But again, the Biden administration is moving fast on this agenda. The first action taken was to remove the consent of states and local governments for land acquisitions. On Feb. 11, Scott de la Vega, Biden’s Acting Secretary of the Interior revoked an order from Trump-Interior Secretary David Bernhardt concerning the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which gave local government a seat at the table specifically by giving governors and local officials veto power over pending acquisition deals.
On a weekly — and almost daily — basis there are new updates and actions being taken. House Democrats are expected to circulate a letter promoting votes on 30 x 30 related regulations and bills that would grant the authorization for the federal government to start snatching land.
“Right now they’re doing it by fiat because they lack the authority,” Byfield said. “They’ve got their people in place. They have a president that’s going to let them push this as far as they want, so this is really their moment.”
A HARD ’PIL’ TO SWALLOW
“Payments in Lieu of Taxes” (PIL) are federal payments to local governments that help offset losses in property taxes due to the existence of nontaxable federal lands within their boundaries. For Nebraska’s 520,851acres of federal land, the federal government paid about $1.3 million to Nebraska’s 93 counties.
However, because of the wildly differing valuation variances, the scenarios for how those payments are calculated, and which types of federal land acquisitions wind up exempt from PIL, the 30 x 30 plan’s potential to shift real estate from private to government ownership could hobble the budget for local governments, exacerbating the property tax burden for ranchers during a time when they’re struggling to be profitable.
By cutting the state and local governments out of the decision making process, the Biden Administration ignores many of the existing federal laws that govern land acquisition and protection, a move that will only lead to devastating results for rural America and for agriculture.
THE ‘C’ WORD
Byfield doesn’t necessarily believe that conservation is a bad word. Existing federal conservation incentive programs like the Conservation Reserve Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program allow for private landowners to leverage federal funds to better manage the resources while still maintaining control of their land.
“You give (the government) a lease, and you take a risk by having a federal agency as a partner,” Byfield said. “But you’re still in control, and you ultimately maintain control and ownership of that property. But under a conservation easement, you forfeit your control for perpetuity.”
However, under 30 x 30, the progressive mentality is in full force, insinuating that private landowners don’t know and aren’t responsible enough to manage and steward their own land.
“They’re operating under the assumption that the administrative state or federal land managers can make better decisions about the quality of the land and how it should be managed than private landowners,” she said. “From my experience, that just doesn’t bear out as true.”
Private landowners are invested — personally and professionally — oftentimes across multiple generations, Byfield said.
“A federal bureaucrat in Washington, D.C., can’t match that institutional knowledge and love for the land,” she said. “But the progressive mindset is that you can’t trust an individual to make their own decisions — they are the only ones who are qualified to make your decisions for you — including what you can and can’t do with your land.”
HOW CAN I FIGHT THIS?
All politics are local, and the first place to start is to reach out to your county government and make locally elected officials aware of the 30 x 30 agenda.
“We’ve developed a resolution that can be passed by a local government,” she said. “It’s a good place to start, and it’s a good tool to educate not only the leaders, but the community.”
Byfield said those resolutions are forwarded to Washington, D.C., where congress members and senators who are trying to fight the 30 x 30 agenda need to be able to show that grassroots support for Biden’s land grab doesn’t exist.
“It helps them stand up to other members of congress and say, ‘The people don’t want this,’” Byfield said.
And that’s an uphill battle in itself, she said. The League of Conservation Voters has gotten individual elected officials across the nation to sign on to a letter in support of the 30 x 30 plan. On paper, it seems like there are a lot of local officials backing it, but in reality, those individuals are likely the minority member of a board where the majority supports private property rights and would oppose a federal overreach.
“Those officials are outliers, but the league has been pounding house members with that letter claiming that they’ve got the endorsement of local officials,” she said. “We think it’s a lot more powerful to have the local government consensus saying ‘That’s not going to happen in our county.’”
A sample resolution is available as a Word document through the American Stewards of Liberty website and county boards can download it and easily modify it to fit the needs of their county, along with the “Guide to Fighting 30 x 30.”
The next step is encouraging individuals to contact their representatives up the chain from the state house to the federal government and make them aware of 30 x 30 and the possible fallout that will affect not only your land, but your very livelihood.
By Spike Jordan