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Land Grab

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Lea County commissioners lead information session to shed light on Presidential executive order seemingly seeking to acquire governmental control of private property

Land Grab.

Those two words caught the attention of most area property owners, ranchers, oil and gas producers, hunters, and outdoor sports enthusiasts. They filled the Troy Harris Center in Lovington to standing room only capacity Thursday night to find out how the Biden administration’s executive order calling for the 30 x 30 program might affect them.

“We’re looking at a huge land grab that is going to fundamentally change land ownership in America,” said Margaret Byfield, executive director for American Stewards of Liberty, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting private property rights and restoring local control of land use.

On Thursday morning, Lea County Commissioners passed a resolution becoming one of five New Mexico counties — Catron, Chaves, Lea, Otero, and Quay — and the Logan Board of Education in opposition to the 30 x 30 program.

The information session was hosted by Lea County commissioners Dean Jackson and Pat Sims, who brought in Byfield as an expert on Presidential executive order 14008, also known as the 30 x 30 agenda.

“What I’m going to peel back for you today — is what the 30 x 30 agenda is and how it’s being implemented by the Biden administration. 30 x 30 is a very radical environmental agenda to ‘permanently protect’ 30 percent of our lands and oceans in their natural state by 2030.”

Because there are few details being given by the Biden administration, Byfield went through the key points of the 30 x 30 program and facts about what proponents have done and said regarding it.

“They believe one million (species) will go extinct world wide in the coming decade, and that one-third of all species in the U.S. will go extinct. This is the climate crisis,” Byfield said. “They believe we are losing a football field of habitat every 30 seconds, that two-thirds of that loss of habitat is on private lands, but only one percent of those are permanently protected. And currently on 12 percent of the total land in the U.S. is permanently protected in its natural state. The lands that must be preserved include high bio-diversity and productivity. So it’s mainly a lot of our private lands.”

The Center for American Progress — with a board of directors that include former President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff, John Podesta (chair), former Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., former House minority leader, Rep. Stacey Abrams, D-Ga., and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary under President Barack Obama, Julián Castro — published the primary report in 2019 supporting the 30 x 30 program in America, Byfield said. Following the report, a resolution calling for the program was introduced in the U.S. House and Senate. One of 10 senators co-sponsoring the bill included now Vice President Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and on the House side, one of five co-sponsors included Deb Haaland, D-N.M., who is now the U.S. Secretary of the Department of the Interior.

Byfield said there is no authority for 30 x 30.

“The president does not have the authority to unilaterally, in an executive order, say, ‘We are now going to conserve 30 percent of our lands.’ That’s a decision of Congress and the states, not of the president,” Byfield said. “Nor does the executive order cite any authority for 30 x 30. There’s also no credible science cited.”

Shortly after Biden signed the executive order on Jan 27, 2020, the Department of the Interior released a “fact sheet” providing for the basis of 30 x 30 the same day, Byfield said. She noted numbers produced by the DOI were checked by a natural resource attorney with the firm Fennemore Craig, Norm Jones as part of his article “The 30 x 30 Land Grab,” and found the basis for 30 x 30 and reasons stated by the administration did not add up to the program being put in place for scientific purposes.

According the the DOI, “Approximately 60% of land in the continental U.S. is in a natural state, but we are loosing a football field worth of it every 30 seconds. … Currently only 12 percent of our lands are ‘permanently protected’.” That comes out to about 3,000 acres per day, or 1.1 million acres per year, or 11 million acres per decade.

All of the land in the U.S. totals about 2.27 billion acres, of which about 28 percent is owned by the federal government — about 640 million acres. The U.S. Geological Survey reports about 12 percent of all land, about 274 million acres, in the U.S. is already “permanently protected.” The land making up the 12 percent of permanently protected land include: national parks, declared wilderness area, permanent conservation easements in perpetuity, state parks, national wildlife refuges, national monuments, and other protected areas.

Byfield showed a graphic published by National Geographic, a proponent of the 30 x 30 agenda, with a smaller square and a larger square over the image of America. The smaller square represented what is currently protected, and the larger square representing what 30 percent of the land would look like.

“It’s five Nebraskas, or two Texas. That’s a lot of land,” Byfield said.

Because of the lack of transparency from the Biden administration in what terms like “permanently protected” and even “conservancy” mean there are more questions than answers, but Byfield said looking through various organizations and governmental department reports can lend some clues.

“They say they don’t know how to define ‘conservation’ and they don’t really know what lands they are after. That’s the rhetoric. Pay attention to what they do,” Byfield said. “They know exactly what they are trying to do.”

She pointed out what the CAP report said how land is considered protected.

“For an area of land to be counted as protected it must be permanently protected in a natural condition and extractive uses must be limited or prohibited,” she said. “We’re talking about lands that have no use. We’re talking about lands you don’t mine, you don’t drill for oil, you don’t graze, and you don’t harvest. Thirty percent of the nation. That’s the goal.”

Proponents have stated they will, “use all of the tools in their toolbox” to make people “voluntarily” comply and hand over control their land to the federal government, Byfield said. Those tools include designation of national monuments and wilderness areas, and include any existing conservation programs like the Endangered Species Act, CRP, and Land and Water Conservation Fund.

“Twenty-eight percent of our nation is already owned by the federal government, but as we’ve already pointed out that’s not necessarily the high bio-diversity areas and they’ve already signaled that because only one percent of private land is protected that’s a problem,” Byfield said. “They are going for the private land too.”

Programs like critical habitat don’t apply to private lands unless there is a federal nexus (such land that receives federal funding, like CRP land, a federal permit, or other federal authorization requiring a federal agency to ensure the continued existence of a federally endangered or threatened species is not jeopardized) already in place, Byfield said.

Byfield added in order to get to the 30 x 30, the administration seems to be targeting large eco-systems, and connecting points where two smaller ecosystems are separated. Land in between is on their radar, she pointed out.

Byfield also noted because people at the local level across the country are starting to become educated and want to defend their property rights, the administration came out with a report rebranding the program as “America the Beautiful.”

The administration has denied it is a land grab, and have said they are merely working with local leaders for land owners who voluntarily sign their land over to the federal government for permanent protection Byfield said.

“The only way they can do this is us as land owners voluntarily acquiesce. They need us to voluntarily agree to this,” She said.

And, if local control is indeed what the Biden administration wants, why did the acting Secretary of the Interior on Feb. 7 — while waiting for the confirmation of Haaland — issue secretarial order 3396 that revoked secretarial order 3388 (from the Trump administration) that gave states and local governments the ability to veto a federal land acquisition in their area, Byfield queried.

“Most of the time when they start rescinding previous administration policies, they wait for the confirmed nominee. This is a little unprecedented,” she stated. “So they’re here to ‘work with you,’ ‘this is locally driven,’ ‘they’re just here to help you’ but they took away an ability of yours to say no to a federal acquisition in your area.”

A newsletter that Byfield said “actually does real reporting, but is 100 percent from the environmental slant” is Energy and Environment News. About the secretarial order 3396, she quoted E&E News as reporting, “Critics said this move (letting local governments veto federal land acquisitions in their area) would have prevented conservation efforts in states where more conservative leaders are sensitive about losing too much private land.”

“That gives you good insight to what environmentalists think about private property,” Byfield said.

But 30 percent is not even the end goal, Byfield said. The real goal is for the federal control of 50 percent of the land and territorial waters in the US. This coincides with similar measures by various organizations being instituted at the same time around the globe, she said.

“You’re going to hear from the Biden administration that this is a locally drive agenda. This is not a locally driven agenda. This is an international agenda. Every nation is being called on to implement 30 x 30,” Byfield said.

Many environmental groups are not only supportive of the 30 x 30 plan in the U.S. but are also involved in a concerted effort in most countries around the globe. Environmental groups on the forefront of pushing the agenda are groups like National Geographic, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Wilderness Society Action Fund, The Defenders of Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy, the Wild-lands Network, and other groups, Byfield said.

As part of the information session, Byfield played a TV news clip featuring the 30 x 30 program with both supporters and opponents. In that clip, National Geographic Explorer-in-residence, and Pristine Seas Executive Director Enric Sala agreed the real goal is to permanently preserve half of the world’s land and oceans in an untouched state.

“We are taking so many fish out of the ocean … we need half of the planet in its natural state. So, we can start by protecting at least 30 percent of our land and 30 percent of our ocean by 2030,” Sala said during the interview. “We’re talking about the future of humanity and everybody has a role to play.”

One group that caught Byfield a little off guard as willing to sign on to the 30 x 30 agenda was the National Rifle Association (NRA), the nations largest gun owner lobby. She said the group signed on to the measure because it was promised hunting and fishing in government held wilderness areas.

“They’re selling out property rights so they can continue to hunt and fish,” Byfield said.

But, when members of the organization started becoming educated on the issue and realized the NRA is on the side against property owners, those members started to complain to the NRA. The complaints were enough the organization took mentions of the 30 x30 agenda off its website, so as not to show support publicly, but continues to be a signator on the plan and support the measure behind closed doors, Byfield said.

“A gun right is a property right,” Byfield said. “And the NRA is selling out property rights for revenue that will eventually come to them … the fact that they took down their public statement means the outcry that they heard impacted them.”

Byfield also cautioned audience members to not be fooled by rhetoric that an administration official doesn’t know what they are doing, what the definition of conserve or permanently protected is, or what land is being targeted. She urged people to look at the actions being taken, because those are decisive.

“They know exactly what their agenda is and where they are headed,” Byfield cautioned. “Whether or not they get there comes down to us.”

To download the free guide outlining the 30 x 30 agenda, go to https://fight30x30.americanstewards.us/download/

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