Supporters try again with conservation and reinvestment bill

Posted: Thursday, June 21, 2001

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A bill to spend more than $3 billion a year on land conservation and recreation nearly cleared Congress last year, and now its supporters are trying again.

The Conservation and Reinvestment Act, sponsored by Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, had its first hearing of the year Wednesday.

It would send $175 million to Alaska for coastal conservation, wildlife management and city parks, among other uses, according to the Anchorage Daily News. The share for other states would range from Vermont's $9.2 million to California's $349 million.

Most of the money would go to state and local governments, but $450 million would be available for federal land acquisition. The money would come from federal offshore drilling receipts.

As was the case last year, the bill makes strange political bedfellows for Young. Environmental groups and their champions in Congress, who usually oppose Young's pro-development approach, are with him on this one.

At the same time, some congressmen from Western states, who usually join Young in decrying the heavy hand of the federal government, passionately oppose CARA. They say it will force land out of private hands and give federal agencies jurisdiction over more of their districts.

Young and other supporters say the bill improves the standing of landowners.

''I suggest you read the legislation and tell me where it is worse,'' Young told opponents at a House Resources Committee hearing Wednesday.

The bill specifies that the federal government can only buy lands from a ''willing seller,'' he and others pointed out.

Rep. Barbara Cubin, R-Wyo., said that wasn't enough for her.

''I know in my district sometimes how the federal government makes a seller willing,'' she said. The government can ruin the value of private property by not allowing the owners to use any part of surrounding federal lands, she said.

She was sympathetic to a Colorado rancher who testified that her family is harassed and under constant surveillance by the National Park Service, which has threatened to condemn the family's ranch and make it part of the surrounding Dinosaur National Monument.

When Congress funds federal land acquisition, it endangers the way of life her family has practiced since 1919, Renee Daniels-Mantle said.

''Without adequate private-property protections, my family and others like us across the country fear it will become the instrument by which the government forcibly removes us from our homes,'' she said.

Park officials have said the Mantles misuse public lands by overgrazing, dumping trash and treating the monument as if they own it.

Despite the objections, CARA has many fans in Congress. It cruised through the House last year 315-102, and supporters said they had at least 60 Senate votes. The bill cleared a Senate committee 13-7 but then died amid protests over its cost: $45 billion over 15 years.

When it fizzled, Congress passed what became known as ''Cara Lite,'' which increased funding for conservation but not through a law that would have guaranteed money for future years, as CARA does.

The new CARA bill is substantially the same as last year's version. It has more than 220 co- sponsors.

Among them is Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind. Where he is from, the only federal property is the veterans' hospital and the courthouse, he said.

He said he likes the bill because it would provide cities and suburbs more open space.



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