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Gloria Flora resigned her job as supervisor of the largest national
forest in the lower 48, because what she calls an “anti-government”
sentiment had reached a “fevered pitch.” Something had to give. “Rather
than waiting for a bomb, or for someone to get hurt, I decided to step
That fever pitch of “anti-government” sentiment is what others call
defending their freedom from a government they believe has overstepped
its constitutional authority.
The immediate issue that led to Flora’s resignation stems from a
small stretch of South Canyon Road in Elko County, Nevada, which
was washed away by floods. The county wanted to rebuild the road;
Gloria’s Forest Service said no.
The South Canyon Road situation is but one of thousands of similar
cases confronting property owners and land users all across the
country. An examination of the attitudes and issues reveals why America
is in a winner-take-all tug-of-war for the land and its resources.
Gloria spoke to about 100 supporters on Jan. 26 in Kalispell,
Montana, at a gathering sponsored by the Montana Human Rights Network
and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. Across town,
more than 600 people attended a rally sponsored by Montanans for
Multiple Use. These people brought shovels to send to Elko in a show of
support for the county’s determination to rebuild South Canyon Road.
“The road isn’t even the issue,” Gloria told a reporter. “The issue
here is a serious anger toward the federal government in general.”
Gloria doesn’t have a clue about why the people are angry. “While a
bit of protest is a good thing in any democracy,” she said, “you can
have too much of a good thing. I’m coming (to Kalispell) to talk about
civility in our public discussion.”
The absence of civility in public discussions is a major reason for
the frustration Americans have with federal agencies. In America,
discussions about public policy are supposed to be open and honest. If
they are heated, so much the better. All opinions should be welcome.
Differing opinions about public policy are supposed to be resolved,
finally, by elected officials, in a public vote.
To Gloria, civility in public discussion means that the public should
listen to her agency’s presentation, make suggestions — if invited to
do so — about how to implement the object of the presentation, and be
thankful for the opportunity to speak. Dissent from the object of an
agency’s presentation is considered to be anti-government, by Gloria and
many of her colleagues.
It’s not Gloria’s fault; it’s her training. Since the President’s
Council on Sustainable Development (PCSD) was created by executive order
in 1993 (to conform to the recommendations of Agenda 21, a policy document adopted by the
United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992), the
agencies of the federal government have been trained to substitute the
“consensus” process for the old-fashioned hearing process in public
Public policy-making is not within the constitutional purview of the
president, nor any of the federal agencies. Executive branch functions
are limited to the implementation of the public policies enacted by
The PCSD, however, in compliance with the recommendations contained
in Agenda 21, said, “We need a new collaborative decision process that
leads to better decisions; more rapid change; and more sensible use of
human, natural, and financial resources in achieving our goals.” Neither
Congress, nor the Constitution has authorized any change in the
“decision process,” but Gloria’s agency, at the direction of her White
House boss, has changed the decision-making process. The new process is
designed to limit — or prevent — public discussion of views that
dissent from the government’s objectives.
The president announced recently that he had instructed the
Department of Agriculture to promulgate rules to close the roads on
nearly 40 million acres of federal lands. This is a new public policy,
which Congress has not authorized. Gloria doesn’t understand why
Americans are angered by this policy-making-by-decree.
Because the law requires public comment and input when the rules for
implementing legislation are changed, The Department of Agriculture’s
Forest Service conducted what they called public hearings on the
proposed road closure rule change.
The president made his “roadless” announcement in October. Within 30
days, the department announced that each of eight federal regions would
hold a series of public meetings. More than 100 such meetings were held
between November 17 and December 16. The comment period closed at the
end of December. The agency could say it had complied with the law, and
issue its new rules.
Did the agency comply with the intent of the law to provide Americans
with ample opportunity to speak for or against the proposed rule change?
The meetings were held only a few days after the schedule was
announced, during the busy holiday season. Why the rush? When the
people arrived at the meetings, they were confronted with a presentation
on how wonderful the roadless plan would be. Those who wanted to speak
were told to write their question — not questions — on a card, and
time permitting, they might be allowed to ask it. Those who were chosen
to speak were given a strict time limit, often no more than two minutes.
Video taping of the meetings was not allowed in some cases.
Gloria, this decision-making process is not public discussion. The
Forest Service knew what it was going to do before the pubic comment
meetings were held. The meetings were held only because the law
requires it. They were designed to screen out dissent. The people who
are most directly affected by the policy changes were muzzled. And
Gloria doesn’t understand why people are angry?
The tug-of-war between the federal government and the people who live
on, and use, the land, is much deeper than process. It goes to the very
principle of property rights in America. Gloria correctly says, “Many
of the land-use decisions we are making today are almost irreversible.”
That’s why it is imperative that the decisions reflect the will — and
the consent — of the people who will be most affected by them. But
Gloria says, “Half the people I represent are not even born yet.” And
President Clinton’s mantra in the land lock-up scheme is to protect the
land for future generations.
The reality of the land lock-up scheme is that the land will be
protected from future generations as well as from the present
generation that depends upon it. Once land is designated as wilderness,
the wealth of resources it contains is no longer available to human
beings. Neither this, nor future generations, can enjoy the benefits the
land offers. As the roads are closed, people cannot even see the land,
nor cultivate its resources.
Congress authorized nine million acres to be designated as wilderness
in 1964, as the result of a five-year campaign by the Wilderness
Society. Additional wilderness acreage has been authorized by Congress
over the years, until now we have more than 100 million acres in
wilderness. Without congressional authorization, the Clinton
administration has expanded wilderness areas substantially by executive
decree. His new initiative, if successful, will expand wilderness to
nearly 200 million acres.
Why? How much wilderness do we need?
Since future generations cannot use the wilderness, it makes no sense
to say that we are protecting it for them, although it makes for a nice
sound bite on television.
The truth is that there are two conflicting views about who should
own the land. America was founded on the belief that individuals should
own the land. In fact, the Constitution says that the federal
government should own only that land required for public buildings and
facilities. That was a unique view in the 1700s. Throughout the rest of
the world, land was the exclusive property of the king, or czar, or
ruling government — whatever it was called. The government granted
individuals the right to use some portion of the land in exchange for a
percentage of its yield. The American revolution was about getting out
from under that kind of servitude to government. It was about gaining
the freedom to possess land and use its bounty for personal gain. This
principle of private ownership of land is the foundation of America’s
Not all Americans, however, agree with this fundamental principle.
Throughout the 1900s, the notion that government should own the land
gained prominence, fanned by the strong socialist movement in America
following the 1917 revolution in Russia. Federal land — given to
anyone who would homestead it in the 1800s — was locked into federal
ownership by the Federal Land Policy Management Act of 1976.
Ironically, that same year, the American delegation to the United
Nations Conference on Human Settlements signed a document in Vancouver,
British Columbia, that says, in part:
- Land … cannot be treated as an ordinary asset, controlled by
individuals and subject to the pressures and inefficiencies of the
market. Private land ownership is also a principal instrument of
accumulation and concentration of wealth and therefore contributes to
social injustice. … Public control of land use is therefore
In 1993, President Clinton signed the Convention on Biological
Diversity, which requires every nation to establish a system of
“protected areas,” according to a plan identified as the Wildlands
Project, published in the United States in 1992. The Wildlands Project
- … at least half of the land area of the 48 conterminous states
should be encompassed in core reserves and inner corridor zones …
assuming that most of the other 50 percent is managed intelligently as
The president’s “Lands Legacy” program is the implementation of
the unratified Convention on Biological Diversity, initiated by
executive decree, without congressional authorization, and implemented
by the agencies of the federal government. With the continuing
wilderness lock-up of federal lands and the administration’s efforts to
establish a $3 billion yearly slush fund to purchase private property,
we are well on the way to converting “at least half” of the nation into
wilderness and most of the other half to government-owned or controlled
And Gloria doesn’t understand why Americans are angry?
To be fair to poor Gloria, she has probably never read the Convention
on Biological Diversity, or the Global Biodiversity Assessment. She is
mystified — as are many of her colleagues — by Americans who have read
these documents, and who refer to the influence of the United Nations.
She calls it “getting down and dirty” when dissenters “confuse the
public” by making “villains where villains don’t exist, or making heroes
where only villains exist.”
The tug-of-war is over much more than South Canyon Road in Elko,
Nevada. Angry, frustrated Americans are sending thousands of shovels to
Elko — not bombs, Gloria — to express their belief that the land and
its resources should belong to the people, not to the government.
Individual owners are far better, more responsible, managers of their
own property than any agency of government. Gloria, and the Clinton
To Gloria and the Clinton administration, Americans who have the
audacity to speak out against their policy-by-decree to lock the land
away from individuals in this and future generations, are nothing more
than anti-government villains. She says, “These anti-government groups
have slogans like, ‘Remember Waco,’ ‘God is on our side,’ and ‘God loves
freedom-fighters.’ These kinds of slogans can encourage a certain kind
of person, and that can lead to a very dangerous situation.”
Gloria just doesn’t get it. But she is right about one thing.
Continuation of the arrogant, dictatorial behavior of the administration
and its agencies can lead to a very dangerous situation: it’s called