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CARA's conservation goals just government land grab?

Congress' inaction on the new farm bill has been much on everyone's mind the past many weeks, but that isn't the only thing going on in Washington that can affect farming.

CARA, for example. You know about CARA?

The Condemnation and Relocation Act, HR 701, it's formally known, and while the title itself is nebulous enough, there is concern it would bring millions more acres of privately-owned land under government control, would have an adverse impact on the tax base of many rural areas, and would funnel millions of “pork” dollars to the home states of several powerful lawmakers.

It also includes a conservation tax credit provision, which opponents say would “vastly increase the ability of the government and non-profit land trusts to grab land.” It would result in massive government land acquisition, according to one property rights advocate, and “is just another nail in the coffin of private property owners in rural America.”

The tax credit, part of the Bush budget proposal, would provide a 50 percent capital gains tax break on any land sold to the government or to land trust organizations, and would, the administration says, constitute a “cost-effective, non-regulatory, market-based approach to conservation.”

Opponents say, however, it favors environmental groups over the private sector and will only put more property in government hands. (Uncle Sam now owns nearly 640 million acres in North America, and CARA would spend hundreds of millions of dollars per year acquiring more private lands — this despite a Congressional Budget Office recommendation of a 10-year moratorium on acquisition of new federal lands by the Interior and Agriculture departments.)

“How much is enough land for the government to own?” asked Henry Lamb, vice president of the Environmental Conservation Organization of Tennessee. “I've tried for years, but have never found anyone in the federal government to answer that question.”

Some say the conservation tax credit “gives an unprecedented comparative advantage for government and non-profit agencies over the private sector.”

It cuts the capital gains tax by half for land sales to non-profit land trusts and federal/state governments. Many land trust organizations then turn around and sell some of their holdings to the federal government — in effect, a taxpayer subsidy of those groups. Land owned by the government is also land that's off the tax rolls; it generates no revenues for rural counties and municipalities (CARA would replace only a small portion of lost revenues).

Sportsmen groups say CARA is anti-hunting, anti-recreational, because much of the land under government control is increasingly being restricted either in access or uses — described by the Wall Street Journal as “rural cleansing.” The goal of the Sierra Club and many environmental groups, the publication said, “is no longer to protect nature, it's to expunge humans from the countryside” by suing or lobbying the government into declaring rural areas off-limits to people who live and work there.”

Finally, the bill contains hundreds of millions of pork dollars for a host of things unrelated to conservation — another reason it has received significant support by several key congressmen.

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