Strange Equality

Eco-elitists save private playgrounds in California.

By Tom DeWeese

Those who have read George Orwell’s classic book, “Animal Farm” will be familiar with the phrase “everyone is equal but some are more equal than others.” The line was used by the ruling pigs in the story to justify why they were giving themselves special privileges over the other animals. It was necessary, you see, that the leaders have the best, the better to deal with the pressing issues of State.

Citizens of communist countries (the political and economic force Orwell sought to parody) fully understand the reality of the phrase. They well know how communist leaders grow rich, take the best homes and ride in chauffeured limousines. Meanwhile, their “equal” fellow citizens shiver on cold winter nights, lacking fuel for the stove, their cupboards bare as a result of corrupt government control over the private sector.

Americans, too, are learning of the injustice that can result from government agents having far too much power. In rural areas, many homeowners have been fighting a losing battle to hang on to their personal piece of the American dream. There, government agents wage a war of attrition to wear them down and force them off property that often has been in the family for generations. Agents close off access roads; they determine that simple home repairs are actually new illegal development; and they join with powerful, rich private-interest groups to ensure that elected government representatives create the needed regulations to increase the intimidation.

It’s all necessary, you see, because such lands must be saved from the ravages of the predators called homeowners–for the sake of protecting the environment.

If one looks a little closer, one might just find that new human predators have moved in to occupy the now-liberated land. They are environmentalists, happily homesteading on once-private property. After being liberated by government goons, the property is supposed to be off-limits to development or private use. But those with power are free to break the rules. Who would enforce them?

So elitist environmental warriors can be found arm in arm with the federal storm troopers, deep in the wood, out of sight of the prying eyes of the public. Deeds to the land can now be placed in green hands. Illegal development can be constructed. Roads can be accessed. And a good time can be had by all. When powerful interest groups team up with federal enforcers to protect the “common good,” mutual profit and personal gain know no bounds.

Apparently, when the elite declare themselves protectors of the environment, they really must be more equal than others. Don’t bother rubbing your eyes if it appears that the environmentalists are beginning to morph into little green pigs.

“We will be good neighbors. We will practice good science. We will promote multiple use.”
–Former BLM Director Pat Shea

Linda Smith Franklin is a fifth generation native of Mattole Valley in Humboldt County. The area is one of the most remote in California. Typical of the pioneer stock that settled the West, the residents are rugged, honest, and believe a man’s word is his bond.

Franklin’s father, the late Paul Smith, prospered in the area. In 1959, he held grazing leases at Big Flat in the King Range. In 1960, with permission from the local office of the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Smith built a road from his ranch to his holdings on the beach at Spanish Flat. For 22 years, Smith personally maintained the road, receiving no financial assistance from the government.

Acquired with the 40 acres of land at Spanish Flat was an old one-room log cabin. In 1961 Smith built an additional two-room cabin onto the front of the existing one, and the family maintained the cabin for over 35 years. There, Franklin and her husband spent their honeymoon; there, many a weary hiker spent a safe night. The doors were not locked.

In 1970, by an act of Congress, the area was designated as part of the “King Range National Conservation Area.” Under the plan, Congress charged the BLM with the task of writing and implementing a land management plan. The plan was completed in 1974 and while it prohibited new, private development on the lands of the designated conservation area, it also clearly protected the private property rights of those already living there. In addition, property owners would be allowed to continue to use and maintain “habitable” cabins that existed prior to 1970.

The trouble began when a new management plan was developed in 1990. Local residents, including Linda Franklin, served on the BLM Core Planning Team for the Management Plan. She traveled thousands of miles attending regular monthly, then bi-monthly meetings to develop a plan that would serve the needs of the majority of the public, as well as protect private property rights. Compromises were made on both sides and an agreement was reached and submitted to the BLM for inclusion in its Management Plan. But when the BLM released its final plan, there was literally no resemblance to the planning team’s document. Apparently, the BLM had simply cast aside the Core Planning Team’s recommendations and, instead, implemented one of its own.

The BLM’s new Management Plan severely diverged from the original Act of Congress that established the King Range National Conservation Area. The Act prohibited the use of condemnation proceedings or eminent domain except for right-of-way. And the BLM was to purchase lands from “willing” sellers only. But there was a major flaw in the original Act because it failed to anticipate the BLM using coercive practices to encourage “unwilling” sellers to change their minds. Another flaw allowed the BLM to manage private as well as public lands. The original purpose of that clause was to prevent the private development of beach-front condos, casinos, or private resorts. It was not intended to prevent landowners from building their own homes or repairing their private roads. These two flaws now turned up in the new BLM Management Plan of 1990. The war against land owners was on.


The government does recognize deeded right-of-way, but they deem what right-of-way is, and if they deem you shall crawl on your knees then you shall crawl on your knees.”–Charlotte Hawks, land acquisition specialist, BLM

Beginning in the late 1980s and early 1990s, federal agencies involved in land management began to take on a new mission–land acquisition. Where once their job was to manage public property, the focus now turned to expanding public domain over as much private land as possible. It began in the most rural areas, and has only recently begun to spread to more populated areas. The King Range National Conservation Area was one of the first to fall victim to the federal land grab.

A telling example of the change in the BLM’s direction can be seen in a series of letters to Paul Smith and later to Linda Smith Franklin, dealing with the issue of the right-of-way for the access road to their property. A letter from the BLM to Smith dated Nov. 10, 1960 states, “You do not need a permit to use and repair the existing ranch access roads over BLM lands in the King’s Peak area. There is no specific law providing for such a permit or easement and no law or regulation prohibiting the use and repair of BLM roads in the area for ranch access, prospecting and mining purposes.”

Again in 1980, in response to another Smith inquiry pertaining to access to the road, the BLM wrote, “In checking into this matter with the Ukiah District, we find that your concerns over the use of the road have been resolved, and a right-of-way issued.”

Again, the BLM was working with the property owners and acknowledging that there was no hindrance in the use of the road.

Somewhere along the way, things changed. In a letter to Linda Smith Franklin, dated Nov. 19, 1997, the BLM answered a similar inquiry, saying, “The Bureau of Land Management has no record, documentation or corporate knowledge of having issued a right-of-way to Paul Smith.”

Limiting or closing access roads into the conservation area has apparently become a common practice by the BLM in an attempt to pressure property owners to give up their land and become “willing” sellers. There are many more incidences of such coercive practices.

ITEM: In 1989, Leonard Pietila, a property owner, planned to build a private home on his land located in the King Range. In accordance with the law and with proper procedure, Pietila applied for, and obtained, a building permit from the Humboldt County Building Department. Lumber was delivered to the property in preparation for the building. Without warning, Pietila received a registered letter from the BLM indicating that his property was being condemned for use not compatible with the BLM area plan. By the time he received the notice, the BLM legal machine had moved into full operational mode. There was literally nothing he could do but wrangle with the BLM for a better price from the government for the taking of his land. Pietila had become a “willing” seller.

Neighboring property owners looked upon the condemnation of Pietila’s land with shock and a realization that the harsh BLM action was a warning to the rest of them. They were now afraid to do anything to their property that might prompt similar action. They were afraid to repair an access road, or bring in a small tractor to bury water lines, or make repairs on homes. All normal, daily actions could now be construed to be “a violation of the management plan.”

ITEM: Prior to the passage of the King Range National Conservation Act, Paul Smith purposely sold two 10-acre parcels of land for the primary purpose of establishing a market value before the BLM took control of the land. It was a defensive measure to protect his investment if land values were affected adversely by BLM land management.

Before the Conservation Act was passed, the first parcel was sold to a Mr. Moon who intended to build a cabin on the land. The Smiths even built a pad for the house that Moon intended to build. But Moon was blocked from building the cabin because he didn’t complete it before the Act went into effect. As a result, the property had literally no value. He was forced to sell it to the BLM. Was Moon a “willing” seller, or was his land held hostage until he agreed to sell it to the BLM?

ITEM: The second Smith parcel was sold to the Goss family. Again they intended to build a cabin, and again they were blocked because nothing could be built after 1970. Goss has resisted selling the property to the BLM. He has tried to find something, anything, that can be done with the land in order to recover his investment. But there is simply nothing Goss can do with the 10 acres that is not in violation of the BLM management plan. He has been denied normal economic appreciation of the property due to the management plan. Because of that plan, Goss has no choice but to sell it to the BLM. Does that make Goss a “willing” seller?

ITEM: Leland Hadley is 78 years old. At one time he owned all of a section called Big Flat. The BLM had prevented him from building a structure on his land. New BLM proposals will cut off his access road. That would require him to walk through terrain consisting of a quarter mile on a steep incline, about three miles of sand and a half mile over a dry stream bed. How long will it take Leland Hadley, lifelong resident of the King Range, to become a “willing” seller?

There are only about six of the original owners left in the King Range. One by one the BLM is picking them off. When the last one goes, access to the entire area will be blocked off, and private property will cease to exist. It will all be through “voluntary” means, of course. Nice and legal. The record will show they were all “willing sellers.” Through government edict, people will cease to exist on the King Range. Why?

“The project calls on the establishment of core wilderness areas where human activity is prohibited, linked with biological corridors.”–Tom McDonnell

The answer may be traced to an all-encompassing land management environmental program called “The Wildlands Project.” In 1992, the radical environmental journal, Wild Earth, published by Earth First!, produced a special issue announcing what it called “The Wildlands Project, Plotting A North American Wilderness Recovery Strategy.”

This radical plan calls for the “rewilding” of at least 50 percent of all the land in every state in the nation. In the introduction to the plan, author Dave Foreman writes, “(T)he idea is simple. To stem the disappearance of wildlife and wilderness we must allow the recovery of whole ecosystems and landscapes in every region of North America. Allowing these systems to recover requires a long-term master plan.” Foreman intended for the “Wildlands Project” to be that master plan.

The project mapped out eco-regions and biosphere reserves that intermingled. It didn’t matter if private homes and farms or even whole towns were caught in the middle. The project called for redistributing people, homes and towns out of the predetermined biosphere reserves. The “Wildlands Project” also ignored community, state and national boundaries. Foreman wrote, “We live to see the day when grizzlies in [Mexico] have an unbroken connection to grizzlies in Alaska; when the gray wolf populations are continuous from New Mexico to Greenland; when vast unbroken forests and flowing plains again thrive and support pre-Columbian populations of plants and animals….”

The “Wildlands Project” was co-developed by Foreman and Dr. Reed Noss. Noss works with the Department of the Interior developing federal ecosystem management policies. With such a force as Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt on the inside of the federal policymaking structure, it didn’t take long for major aspects of the “Wildlands Project” to be found in federal land management policy. In fact, a host of Clinton appointees, now in a position to create policy, came from the ranks of the environmental movement. Babbitt himself, was the former head of the League of Conservation Voters. In addition, there was George Frampton, former head of the Wilderness Society; Raft Pomerance, former policy analyst for the World Resources Institute; Brooks Yeager, former vice president of the National Audubon Society; Thomas Lovejoy, science advisor to Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and former officer of the World Wildlife Fund; Jessica Truchman Mathews, former vice president of the World Resources Institute; David Gardiner, former legislative director for the Sierra Club; and John Leshy, former official at the Natural Resources Defense Council. All were now in positions to direct policy–and all were dedicated to the radical “Wildlands Project” land management plan.

In addition, an entire network of environmental groups, including most of those once led by the now-Clinton appointees, jumped into action to build momentum for the plan, both on the national and local levels. Add to the mix a host of willing politicians and massive funding resources, and the “Wildlands Project” became the driving force in federal land management policy. Many of the environmental groups became “Wildlands Project” affiliates, receiving grants (tax dollars) to develop local, state and regional plans to implement the project.

Such a radical policy change in federal land management clearly explains why the Interior Department took such a hard-nosed attitude in dealing with property owners in the King Range National Conservation Area. Obviously the plans had changed from simply trying to conserve land while protecting the property rights of those who lived there, to a deliberate plan to move all people out of the region, as called for in the “Wildlands Project.”

The California Wilderness Coalition (CWC) is listed as a “Wildlands Project” member, as is Jim Eaton, founder of the Coalition. Eaton has served as California’s representative to the Wilderness Society. California Senator Dianne Feinstein’s husband, Richard Blum, is a member of the Governing Council of the Wilderness Society. The Wilderness Society is a member of the CWC. The CWC is working with numerous “former” Earth First! organizations and individuals, including Dave Foreman, who is co-founder of Earth First!.

Eight members of Congress–all democrats from California–have worked with the CWC to shut down motorized use of Black Sands Beach in the King Range National Conservation Area. They are Rep. Pete Stark, Rep. Brad Sherman, Rep. Vic Fazio, Rep. Tom Lantos, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Ellen Tausher, Rep. Howard Berman, and Rep. Lynn Woolsey.

An article in the January 1999 edition of Wilderness Record, published by CWC, refers to the BLM closure of the Black Sands Beach in the King Range. Credit is given by CWC to the Sierra Club and Environmental Protection Information Center for successfully rallying support for the BLM’s closure of the beach to motorized vehicles. A large photo of the Black Sands Beach is shown in the story, with photo credit given to the BLM.

Clearly there is solid collusion among federal land management policy makers at the Department of the Interior, federal policy enforcers at the BLM, and the massive, highly funded environmental establishment. Just as clearly, the “Wildlands Project,” and its radical goal to turn vast areas of North America into wilderness, seems to be federal policy. That policy is what has made the new federal land management program the largest land grab in U.S. history.


It may be that human nature is too strong to be countered. Yet man is still a reasoning animal. Even if he perishes, he would like to know, in his agony, what it was that doomed him.”–Book review of Animal Farm 

The rules enforced by the BLM in the King Range say there is to be no new development after 1970. One resident, Leonard Pietila, had his property condemned because he planned to build a new cabin after the 1970 deadline. The BLM refused to allow Linda Franklin to make repairs to her access road. The BLM has made it clear–there will be no new development, no new dwellings, no roads, and no modernization in the King Range. Period.

But fly over the Big Flat today and notice an uncommon sight. New buildings–in fact, several buildings. How can that be? Where are the BLM storm troopers? Where are the fines? Where is the condemnation for these blatant violators of the environment? Where is the usual organized outcry from the environmentalist network? There’s not a peep. Because a quick check of deeds will show that the record owner of the land is William Devall. 

William Devall is a leader in the “Deep Ecology” movement and has direct connections with Earth First! that expand over a decade. According to a book entitled “In a Dark Wood,” by Alston Chase, Devall was an early member of the Board of Directors of the Earth First Foundation, which was organized to raise funds for the movement. Currently Devall is listed as an editorial advisor for Wild Earth, the publishing voice of the “Wildlands Project.” Devall is not only the co-author of a book called “Deep Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered,” but is also the editor of the Sierra Club’s publication, “Clearcut: The Tragedy of Industrial Forestry.”

Devall, a former sociology professor at Humboldt State University, is heavily involved in promoting environmental policy. As such, he presented the wilderness proposal for an enlarged King Range wilderness area. That presentation was made in Humboldt County, at a public hearing on May 8, 1985. It was at that meeting where the environmental impact statement for the BLM’s King Range wilderness review was under consideration. Clearly, Devall is a major player in helping to create BLM land management policy–especially that based on the “Wildlands Project.”

Now Devall is found to be the record owner of property right in the middle of the King Range area. The buildings on the property make up a private retreat operating under the “Big Flat Conservation Trust.” According to the Trust’s attorney, Bryan Gaynor, the original buildings on the property burned in the 1930s. Says Gaynor; “replacement of this structure was determined by the BLM to be permitted under the Act. The destroyed structure was replaced by a house of the same size and located on the same footprint as the original building.”

But this is not just a house, it is a private retreat with a complex of buildings. There is a communal cooking building next to the main lodge. All of the buildings in this private complex are wood heated. Between the house and cooking building is an elaborate, heated hot tub building. Situated in front of the property, between the buildings and the ocean, is an airplane landing strip. According to attorney Gaynor, “The Big Flat property is available to a limited number of private groups each year who wish to use it in conjunction with appropriate wilderness activities conducted on the surrounding public lands.” 

In spite of denials from Gaynor and the Trust, county records show Devall as record owner of private property, parcel No. 107-184-07, located right in the middle of the King Range National Conservation Area. All lands adjacent to and in the immediate area of Devall’s property are registered in county documents as belonging to the United States of America-Bureau of Land Management. Date of the sale of the land is March 5, 1990. Well after the 1970 deadline for allowing the building of new or refurbished buildings.

How did Devall get the land? Why has the BLM allowed him and the Trust an exception when property owners who have lived in the region (some as long as five generations) have been targeted for extinction? Why did the BLM approve reconstruction of these buildings when local homeowners fear BLM repercussions if they simply want to repair a porch or roof to their existing homes? 

As in George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” new tyranny replaces old in the wake of revolutions, as power corrupts even the noblest of causes. Now, with the hated property owners banished from their lands, the little green pigs of the environmental movement dance and laugh and frolic on public lands they’ve made their own–at public expense.

Tom DeWeese
[email protected]

Tom DeWeese is one of the nation’s leading advocates of individual liberty, free enterprise, private property rights, personal privacy, back-to-basics education and American sovereignty and independence.