Economic "Values": Should Industry be traded for Eco-tourism?

In a complicated dance between the Federal Government, Corporate Environmental Organizations, Private Property Rights, and Industry a new trend is emerging. Trade your rights for pie in the sky eco-tourism dollars. One step in the dance is species listing; as an example, the Sage Grouse was to be listed as an endangered species prompted by suits from Center for Biological Diversity and Wild Earth Guardians. Population estimates for sage grouse run from 100,000 to 500,000 birds. They range across 290,000 square miles of sage brush habitat in California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. Many states reacted in panic not wanting the loss of industry, jobs, and property rights that would go with this listing and opted to plan to protect the grouse through state sponsored efforts. Here is an example of how one state, Montana reacted with an executive order: This expensive use of taxpayer monies may not prevent listing in the long run, but for the next year the federal spending bill passed recently prevents the Obama administration from spending any money next year on rules to protect the ground-dwelling bird. Another step in the complicated dance is illustrated by the productions of studies that attempt to convince the productive among us that we really do not need to work, because people will pay to look at us. This notion is then echoed through the media and those politicians who are in favor of listings and desperate to find alternative revenue. The problem with the alternative revenue is that it is dependent of Federal Tax Spending, and the whims of the traveling public that can actually afford to travel, rather than go to work. The attention to this magical alternative for revenue is often tied to programs that first require the involvement of an Environmental Corporation, and a Federal Program. This can be revealed in an additional step in the Pie in the Sky dance, the National Heritage Area; a federally funded program through the National Park Service, and a local Environmental Corporation created for this program, in this case, The Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust. The bill which would create this Area is sponsored by Senator Maria Cantwell, Senator Patty Murray, Congressman Dave Reichert in 2013, and is co-sponsored by Represenatives Adam Smith, Jim McDermott, and Suzan DelBene. The Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Area will encompass 1.5 million acres, 900,000 acres of public land, 1.4 million people, 28 cities, 1,600 miles of trails, according to the Sponsors and the Trust which will receive the Federal dollars to be doled out in this 1.5 million acre Heritage Area. The self stated description of this Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust is "to promote a sustainable balance between people and nature in the landscape connecting Puget Sound to Central Washington" and "Our mission is to lead and inspire action to preserve and enhance the Greenway by providing opportunities for high-quality outdoor recreation; interpreting environmental, historic, and cultural resources; encouraging sustainable development; and creating healthy ecological conditions." This inspiration would occur geologically for quite a wide swath of land from the start of I-90 in Seattle through and beyond Ellensburg, if you live anywhere along this range, then your private property is most likely mapped into the Heritage Areas. You can see the mapped area here: The one thing that is not touted in any of the media accounts of this area is the fact that thousands of private property owners are mapped into the program. Mealy mouthed assurances aside, there are not sufficient protections to property owners mapped into this area. The truth is that the federal carrot and stick money for compliance game will be played out in this area with State, City, and County players making decisions, not property owners. And this will impact property owners who will have no notion of the plans offered to their elected officials as by then a new name will be given to the dollars offered and it will include and be encouraged as embracing eco-tourism. As can be seen by reading the promoting documents, recent entries regarding property rights have been added by the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust. Trust may be a misnomer, as this scheme has recently become a dance step closer to reality as Doc Hastings' committee passed this out of committee before his step down from his position on the federal Natural Resources Committee. The reader should be cautioned to read between the lines, however, because as this proposed heritage area progresses, new bits of information have been added over time. A close look at the claims made on the Mountains to Sound website would raise questions as to exactly how these benefits of a Heritage Area could legally be accomplished. After all we are a State with a Constitution in a country with a constitution, and are therefore a land of law. Some Q and A is in order here since the proponents have decided to now include private property owners in their plans at long last, revealing that the claims to not abridge the rights of any property owner to be somewhat suspect, considering private property owners have been mapped into the heritage area without consent to begin with. According to the Mountains to Sound Greenway A National Heritage Area Will: Increase the visibility of the communities in the Greenway through an enhanced sense of place and importance. How is this accomplished, with signs, interpretive centers, and Forest Service employees and vendors? This would be federal tax spending with possible public/private spending. If one does not know who and where one is, how can the federal government and an NGO offer that knowing in a meaningful way? This has traditionally been determined not only by the people who live in an area, but also the productive enterprises they have accomplished and are accomplishing. Where is the need, and what would change? • Enhance funding opportunities through private and public partnerships. This often means tax dollars at the state and or federal level would be enhancing the dollars of Environmental Corporations, in this case the Mountains to Sound, with co-mingled goals and authority. • Celebrate and interpret the rich history and natural heritage that makes this a unique place in the nation. This stated goal is not specifically defined, but would include further trails, centers, signage, etc. With an emphasis on what is interpreted to be positive or negative by the NGO and the National Park Service. Part of that heritage at present is the notion that "Cities and businesses in the Greenway benefit from having world-class recreation on the doorstep of our urban areas. The quality of life that the Greenway offers helps to attract tourism and top employers that have kept our region’s economy strong. The National Heritage Area designation will mark the Greenway's place on the map and recognize it as a special place in the state and in the nation." This means rural areas, "the world class recreation areas", would be dependent on the Top Employers of the area to provide those who like to recreate, assuming taxing, environmental, and economical policies impacts on businesses such as CAP and Trade do not drive them or their suppliers out of the area and the state. • Enable agencies to share staff, such as a wildlife biologist or conservation corps crews. Here lies the first red flag for property owners, it would be needed to watch for the legislation of such goals. Is this goal legal according to existing statutes or will legislation be needed to allow for this? What is the present status of sharing such things at present? What would be the advantage of this to a property owner, the agencies, and the Mountains to Sound NGO? • Encourage interagency collaboration on trails with multiple land owners for maintenance and signage. Here is where one can wonder what exactly these terms mean? What does encourage mean, that courage would be established in an otherwise resistant agency through monies? What does collaboration on trails with multiple landowners mean? That zoning would be established to encourage landowners to be included in trail systems? Or that local agencies would be given local legislative authority to encourage otherwise resistant landowners? Or that local landowners would be paid to maintain trails and signage on their property? This "encouragement" needs to be explained, again this is describing inter-agency activity that depending on the involved agencies, may or may not comply with legislative intent and would need to be watched closely. • Create a branding campaign for the Greenway to increase tourism. This seems to be a way for the Greenway Trust to have a reason for some of the money to stay in house for operating funds. The Trust would either have to do this themselves, or hire some company to do this branding for them. Again this is reinforcing the pie in the sky eco-tourism magic that will serve certain economies however well that may or may not occur. • Allow ecological restoration across multiple jurisdictions, property owners, and watersheds. What kind of restoration projects would be done, what jurisdictions are being included, how are property owners expected to be included in these restoration projects, and at what cost? And what watersheds are targeted for inclusion in these restoration projects. This is what is referred to as the regionalization of plans, often leaving no elected official in charge, with the authority handed over to an NGO or an NGO/government plan. The wording in these bills claims private property will not be affected, however, the stated goals above show a different story. Private Property owners will certainly feel the impact of these goals especially those mapped into the Heritage Area. These bills are not particularly long and are cookie cutter supplied by the National Park Service but they are easy to read and are worth reading as they provide insight into what it might be like to be in a heritage area. In these Proposed Bills, Goals are not included or codified, but, rather are vaguely allowed. The song may be different for different programs, but the dance is the same. Rights are just not worth trading for the economical and governmental schemes of Corporate Environmentalists. Sadly, Property owners in Washington State have had enough experience with Government programs and NGOs to know how in reality the dance is done, leading to a natural suspicion of the stated goals. That suspicion aside, do the citizens of Washington State want their federal tax dollars spent via the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust on such a program? What will happen if the funding runs dry such as it has with the Save Rural Schools and Payment in Lieu of Taxes programs? Would we then be stuck with a designation that would be in fact in place with no federal funding? There is nothing in the law that speaks to this, and in fact allows for the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust to raise funds for this program. With funding from any source come strings, what if the resulting policies are not what private property owners in the mapped area would approve of? Look closely at the other programs the Mountain to Sound organization pursues, then make an informed decision: The best bet for property owners is to contact your elected representatives and tell them no thanks we do not want this Heritage Area. (202) 225-7761. (202) 225-8901. (202) 225-6311. (202) 225-3106. (202) 224-3441. (202) 224-2621. And contact House Natural Resources Committee Public Lands Chairman, Representative Rob Bishop 202-225-0453

December 19, 2014