Land ‘takings’ is for the birds

By Henry Lamb

Which is more important, habitat for a seaside sparrow, or habitat for human
beings? The answer, of course, is for the birds.

For several generations, farmers in Dade County, Fla., have grown
abundant crops in the fertile fields that border the eastern edge of the
Everglades. The land is flat. The elevation is just above sea-level.
Below a thin layer of topsoil is a layer of permeable white rock. Water is
abundant. Irrigation wells rarely reach more than 12 feet into the ground,
and can supply an endless stream of water.

Avocados have been a major crop in South Florida. The trees grow to about
12 feet high and sink roots into the ground 24 to 36 inches. When the water
table rises to saturate avocado roots for more than a day or two, the trees
suffer, or die.

Much of this rich, agricultural land – which is now habitat for human
beings – is targeted to become buffer zones between the Everglades and the
urbanized coast. Those who are trying to restore the Everglades to its
pre-industrial (pre-human) condition, have found a way to force the people
off their land: declare the seaside sparrow to be “endangered.”

To ensure habitat for the bird, manipulators of the water table simply turn
a few valves, which changes the course of water through a maze of
government-built canals, and dumps excess water into the Everglades.
Avocado groves five miles East of the Everglades begin to wilt, and die, as
the water table rises.

Who is responsible for the farmer’s loss? Is it the Corps of Engineers? Is it
the South Florida Water Management District? Is it the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service? Is it the environmental organizations that demanded that the bird
be listed as endangered? A lawsuit to fix liability would cost a fortune, and there is no guarantee
that a judge would side with the landowner. So the human suffers loss of
income, which will force him to go elsewhere, and give up his land to the
only buyer – the government.

Ironically, the “seaside sparrow” is so named because it lives near the
seaside, not 50-miles inland in the Everglades; some scientists say the
bird ranges as far North as South Carolina. But it really doesn’t matter
whether or not the bird is endangered; it is simply an excuse to force
people off their land.

Wilderness promoters are using another technique to expand the buffer zones
on the West side of the Everglades. Collier County is already mostly
“public” land, with more than 75 percent owned by governments. Under constant
pressure from environmental organizations, the county is amending its
Comprehensive Land Use Plan.

The plan has already established an “urban growth boundary,” consistent with
the dictates of Agenda 21, and the “recommendations” from Bill Clinton’s
President’s Council on Sustainable Development. Now, the proposed
amendments to the plan will establish several NRPAs – Natural Resource
Protection Areas.

These areas are mostly privately owned, outside the urban boundary. To
ensure that the private owners are prevented from using their land as they
choose, the county declared that each parcel of land, as recorded on June
22, 1999, could contain no more than one residence, regardless of the size
of the parcel. However, the right to develop that one residence could be
sold to a buyer in a ROMA – Regional Offsite Mitigation Area – which the
county also designated on a map.

What’s wrong with this picture?

In a free real estate market, it is reasonable to assume that a 20-acre
parcel of land near the urban center would be more valuable than a two-acre
parcel 10 miles from the urban center. The county’s plan makes no
distinction, and dictates that each owner may have a single development
right of equal value, to sell to a buyer who may use that development right
only in a designated area of the county. Collier County’s real estate
market has been transformed from a “free” market, into a “managed” market.
Take a good, close look at a “sustainable development,” which is, in fact,
government-managed development.

It would be bad enough if these infringements on freedom were the work of
local elected officials; constituents could get relief by simply electing
new officials. But no, local elected officials are forced to comply with
the state law, which must conform to federal law, which has been enacted to
comply with international treaties.

By comparison, only a handful of people are directly affected in both Dade
and Collier Counties; most of the population lives in high-rise condos, and
massive estates near the beaches. They, for the most part, are unaware, and
unconcerned about the plight of the avocado farmer, or the landowner in a
designated NRPA.

If government is allowed to ignore the fundamental principle of private
property rights, and declare that habitat for a sparrow is more important
than habitat for humans, what is to prevent that same government from
deciding that beachfront habitat is more important for the seaside sparrow
than for the condo-dwellers? People who are now unaware and unconcerned, can
be forced out of their towers as easily as the farmers are being forced
from their land.

It is time to confront the basic question: Which is more important, habitat
for people, or habitat for critters?

Dr. Reed Noss, author of the infamous Wildlands Project,
says quite clearly that when a conflict arises between the needs of people
and the needs of critters, that the needs of critters must prevail.

The seaside sparrow is only one of more than 100 species listed as
threatened or endangered in Florida, among nearly 2,000 species listed
across the country. It is high time that we realize that these listings are
little more than an excuse to control and manipulate people in order to get
more land out of private ownership and into the hands of government.

The NRPAs in Collier County are designed to provide “connectivity” between
wilderness areas – precisely as described in Reed Noss’ Wildlands Project.
Relentless expansion of core wilderness areas – such as the Everglades –
and the adjacent buffer zones, is also prescribed by the Wildlands Project.

The policy makers in Florida are implementing the Wildlands Project, whether or
not they admit it, or even realize they are doing so. The result is
eroding the very foundation of our system of government and the principles
of freedom on which it was founded.

It may be too late to stop the momentum, and reverse the process. Maybe
not. As more people are personally impacted by this expanding program,
they are becoming aware and concerned, and joining with others in
organizations and activities such as the Sawgrass Rebellion that will
focus the spotlight on southern Florida in October, just weeks before the
election.

Sparrows and other critters are entitled to whatever habitat they can find.
Humans have no less entitlement. We simply cannot allow our government to
be taken over by zealots who believe that habitat for sparrows is more
important than habitat for humans.