NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Feds Eyeing Private Acreage In Parks

November 2, 1999

Each year the four major federal land management agencies -- the National Forest Service, the National Parks Service, the Bureau of Fish and Wildlife and the Bureau of Land Management -- come up with wish lists of private land holding inside parks that they want to buy.

The private ownership rights date back to the 1890s when Congress began designating national parks and forests. Through the years, most of the land owners have kept their tracts in a natural state or sold them to the federal government for preservation.

But Congress never appropriates enough money to satisfy the appetites of the agencies.

  • In recent years, the four agencies have received a combined $300 million to $400 million annually for the acquisition of private lands.
  • The Park Service's wish list alone runs to 10,184 private tracts in 145 parks -- more than 1 million acres in all -- that officials say would cost the government more than $1.35 billion to buy for preservation.
  • Private holdings in national parks and forests run to about 50 million acres.
  • In spite of the fact that private owners can do what they want with their lands and the government is obliged to allow them access to their holdings, environmental groups fight development.

For example, an environmental coalition is now seeking to halt planned development of 200 acres of Piano Creek Ranch in the San Juan National Forest in Colorado -- using a strategy of challenging applications for road improvements, electric lines and sewer permits, as well as lobbying for the Forest Service to deny construction permits.

Conservation advocates are caught in a dilemma: prices for land are soaring in some national preserves and soon will be beyond the reach of even federal bureaucrats, experts say. That's why they put pressure on Congress every year to satisfy their funding requests.

Source: Michael Janofsky, "Private Acres in Public Parks Fuel Battles on Development," New York Times, November 2, 1999.


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