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Harris Sherline: The Government’s Land Grab

The ongoing acquisition of real estate by the BLM and other agencies is counterproductive

The federal government is broke, at least by normal standards of measuring financial well-being, but it persists in spending money on a wide variety of wish lists coveted by bureaucrats and legislators.

Harris Sherline
Harris Sherline

You may ask, what now? What else can we — that is, the government — buy on our behalf that we really don’t need or want? This might seem like a trick question, considering the almost limitless number of possible answers.

Perhaps one of the most egregious wastes of our money is the acquisition of ever-increasing amounts of real property by the Bureau of Land Management and various other agencies of the U.S. government. In his Human Events article “Hellacious Acres: Time to Freeze Uncle Sam’s Real-Estate Portfolio,” Deroy Murdock offers some revealing facts about the real estate that is owned by the federal government:

» The federal government owns about 650 million acres of land in the United States, or 1,015,625 square miles, which is 26.7 percent of the United States, “roughly equal to all of Alaska, Texas and California combined.”

» “The federal government (already) owns 45.3 percent of California, 48 percent of Arizona, 57.45 percent of Utah, 69 percent of Alaska and 84.5 percent of Nevada. No continental state from the Rockies west is less than 30 percent federal, as are Montana and Washington (state).”

» “In March 2009, President Barack Obama designated 2 million federal acres as ‘wilderness,’ thus limiting public access and uses thereon.”

» “Even scarier is a secret Bureau of Land Management discussion paper leaked to Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah. Labeled ‘Internal Draft — NOT FOR RELEASE,’ this document ... advocates ‘expanded landholdings’ and ‘acquiring parcels adjacent to its current holdings … .’ These envirocrats also argue that ‘should the legislative process not prove fruitful … BLM would recommend that the administration consider using the Antiquities Act to designate new national monuments by presidential proclamation.’ So, if Congress fails to grip federal acreage even more tightly, Obama should grab it by decree. ... BLM lists 14 such potential monuments.”

However, Murdock also points out that the BLM “already has a deferred-maintenance backlog of at least $480 million. At the Fish & Wildlife Service, $2.4 billion in fixes cry for attention. The U.S. Forest Service needs $5.3 billion of work, while the National Park Service awaits $8.2 billion in road, trail and building renovations. Why not perform these repairs before nabbing more land to neglect?”

What bureaucrats seem to overlook is that the ongoing expansion of the federal government’s ownership of real property is counterproductive in other ways, as well. For example:

» It further increases the size of bureaucracy at a time when the growth of the federal government already intrudes too far into the lives of U.S. citizens.

» It spends money we don’t have for property we don’t need.

» It prevents the development of vital natural resources we need for self-sufficiency, such as oil, gas, coal and timber, which in turn reduces economic activity that would otherwise generate income tax revenues needed to fund government.

» It limits the availability of land that Americans can use and enjoy.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of government ownership of real estate is that it takes property off the tax rolls. At a time when the Obama administration and Congress have created the biggest budget deficit in America’s history, they also have been taking more property off the tax rolls.

It may not be logical, but it is certainly consistent with their behavior since Obama took office.

— Harris R. Sherline is a retired CPA and former chairman and CEO of Santa Ynez Valley Hospital who has lived in Santa Barbara County for more than 30 years. He stays active writing opinion columns and his blog,

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