Americans Hoping To Rake In

by Joanna Waugh

In February 1997, President Clinton announced his American Heritage Rivers initiative — a program to pump federal money into urban riverfront projects. AHR is supposed to provide recreational opportunities while protecting natural resources, preserving local history and culture, and revitalizing local economies through sustainable development. In reality, this proposal is just another Great Society-type welfare program — for recreation. Clinton has promised American Heritage Rivers will not increase federal spending. He has instructed his Cabinet to squeeze federal agencies of every available dollar and to “re-direct resources” into AHR communities. Tight budgets, however, leave little money to play with. The President needs an alternative funding source, and a “grassroots” campaign to lobby Congress for it.

The first inkling of his plan came in April public input sessions conducted by the EPA, Forest Service, National Park Service, and Department of Agriculture. Tucked into the American Heritage Rivers information packet was promotional literature for a group called Americans for Our Heritage and Recreation (AHR). This so-called grassroots coalition of 150 organizations claims its mission is to, “renew and strengthen our nation’s investment in places that conserve our natural and cultural heritage and provide recreational opportunities for all Americans.” AHR intends to accomplish these goals by lobbying Congress for full Land and Water Conservation Fund appropriations — $900 million a year. Land and Water Conservation Fund state grants are routinely used for local trails, ballfields, swimming pools, picnic areas, boat docks, etc. They are also used to acquire land. As one AHR member organization recently observed, “With [$900 million], this nation could preserve a lot of open space . . .” Clearly, federal agencies would pump enormous amounts of LWCF money into President Clinton’s river projects via the state grants.

Who will rake in, and how

A better moniker for Clinton’s “grassroots coalition” is Americans Hoping to Rake in. AHR is packed with groups that stand to gain, politically and financially, from increased Land and Water Conservation Fund appropriations. At the top of the financial gain list is the Sporting Goods Manufacturing Association. It goes without saying that members of this organization will realize enormous profits if demand for their goods and services expands. Of particular interest to property rights advocates, however, are the land trusts. Two AHR members are the biggest nonprofit land trusts in America — The Nature Conservancy and Trust for Public Land. In 1991, Washington Times correspondent, Warren Brookes, labeled TNC and TPL as “government advance men.” These two land trusts routinely acquire private property, then sell it to state and federal governments (who use LWCF funds) at a profit. The Trust for Public Land has been particularly arrogant. On August 14, 1980, it purchased an Oregon property at 11:22 A.M. that was sold one minute later to the U.S. Forest Service for a $194,000 profit. Three minutes later, TPL purchased another property that it “flipped” to USFS for $117,000 more than it paid. That is a profit (some taxpayers might call it obscene) of $311,000 in a matter of five minutes. Deals like this between TPL and USFS went on for years in Oregon, culminating in creation of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. (Friends of the Columbia Gorge is also a member of Americans Hoping to Rake in.)

Appalachian Mountain Club is another AHR partner. Originally chartered as a group focused on outdoor recreation and safety, the Club changed direction in 1990. It now advocates federal land acquisition and increased government control of private property. AMC chairs a twenty member coalition of green groups known as the Northern Forest Alliance (another group of Americans Hoping to Rake in) that is pushing for government acquisition of 26 million acres in the Northeast. How does AMC and the Northern Forest Alliance expect to gain from increased LWCF appropriations? Consider the Appalachian Mountain Club’s “special” relationship with the U.S. Forest Service. Under a free, special-use permit, the Club operates facilities within the White Mountain National Forest. The Forest Service allows AMC to use these facilities to expand its membership base and to present its political views, unopposed, to over half a million visitors each year. This “special use” of public property nets AMC $3.5 million per annum.

Right now, AMC and the Northern Forest Alliance are using recreational development of a canoe trail between Old Forge, New York and Fort Kent, Maine as a way to lock-up the land they seek. According to a Club press release, the canoe trail will help “the prospect of understanding and protecting the Northern Forest,” by “tak[ing] the grand notion of protecting the broad landscape to ground level.” This attitude is shared by another AHR member, the National Audubon Society. In 1990, Audubon lobbyist, Brock Evans, told AMC and the Alliance that the 26 million acres they coveted for federal acquisition “should all be in the public domain. Be unreasonable,” he advised. “You can do it. Let’s take it all back.”

“It’s alive!”

Americans Hoping to Rake in includes some familiar faces that must be mentioned. Western Ancient Forest Alliance’s executive director, Jim Jontz, sits on AHR’s legislative advocacy and strategy committee. This former congressman from the 5th Indiana District is well known to the Northwest timber industry. His spotted owl policies still reverberate throughout the State of Washington and Oregon. Alvin Rosenbaum, president of the National Center for Heritage Development, is also a member of AHR. He sits on its policy committee. It was Mr. Rosenbaum who, as National Coalition for Heritage Areas chair, first postulated the idea of circumventing Congress to achieve heritage goals. Finally, the Maryland Wildlands Committee serves on AHR’s legislative advocacy and strategy board. “Wildlands” is a radical policy that among several policies, advocates the creation and preservation of wildlife habitat corridors along rivers. American Heritage Rivers provisions that preserve riparian habitat dovetail perfectly with the Wildlands Project.

Those who stand to gain the most politically, however, are parks and recreation agencies. Fourteen of them, including the National Association of County Parks and Recreation Officials, are members of Americans Hoping to Rake in. One official, Patrick Sanger of the California Parks and Recreation Department, is AHR’s coordinator. He mails AHR membership and LWCF lobbying information from his Sacramento office. State recreation department officials like Mr. Sanger expect to expand their authority, and enjoy fatter budgets, if Congress allocates more money for Land and Water Conservation Fund grants. One AHR member — the State of Arizona — has, since 1965, received more that $44 million for 700 recreation projects.

State and local recreation projects are based on startling national studies. In Portage, Indiana for example, the 1990 U.S. Census counted 41,000 residents. The city possesses eight public parks and one golf course. A recently released report estimates the population will increase 1,000 people over the next five years. The report also recommends that Portage add fifty-seven basketball courts, six tennis courts, five soccer fields, and two new golf courses to meet “national standards.” The golf courses alone will require acquisition of 300 acres. Such a study gives rise to a pertinent question — if towns like Portage, Indiana require facilities in these outrageous numbers to accommodate the recreational needs of retired “baby-boomers,” what are the projected (and inflated?) needs of cities like Chicago and Los Angeles?

“It’s alive!”

In 1992, the National Park Service released a heritage partnerships program “concept paper” in which it had this to say about funding:

“Several approaches to funding the Heritage Partnership Program have been suggested. Chief among these was the implementation of a one cent per gallon fuel tax. Other suggestions . . . included separate on-line budget appropriations or increases in programs such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund or the Historic Preservation Fund. There is also a potential for an amendment to the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act earmarking a third component of the fund for the Heritage Partnerships Program.”

Americans Hoping to Rake in are the storm troopers in this effort. They include recreation organizations (American Whitewater Affiliation, Outdoor Recreation Coalition of America, American Hiking Society, Partnership for National Trails System, International Mountain Bicycling Association); and green groups (Save the Redwoods League, Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council; Sierra Club, Center for Marine Conservation, Wilderness Society, National Parks and Conservation Association, and World Wildlife Fund). President Clinton has enlisted these special interest groups to push his American Heritage Rivers project. Their actions, if successful, will breathe new life into the heritage program — a frankenstein that property rights advocates thought consumed by the fiery 104th Congress.

Johanna Waugh is an Executive Board Member of Stop Taking Our Property (STOP). For more information contact her at 500 Potowatomi Trail, Chesterton, IN 46304.

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.