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Should Uncle Sam own even more of California?
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Uncle Sam owns 45.3 percent of California’s land mass.

That amount is miniscule compared to Nevada where the federal government owns 84.5 percent of the land. The top 10 list of states with federal ownership consists exclusively of western states with California coming in at seventh.

By contrast, three states east of the Rockies have 10 to 13.4 percent of their land mass under Washington’s control with the rest of the states in single digits. The lowest are Rhode Island and Connecticut at 0.4 percent.

Earlier this year the Obama Administration generated an internal memo suggesting that the President create 14 more national monuments. All of them, which comes as no surprise, are in the West. Unlike national parks that need Congressional approval, presidents can issue executive orders to create national monuments.

There are four sites up for consideration in Northern California: Lake Berryessa’s snow mountain region, the Bodie Hills, expansion of the 52,940 acres that currently comprise the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument where the two mountain ranges meet, and the Modoc Plateau.

All four regions have unique and diverse ecosystems as well as one-of-a-kind geology as well as human history connected to them.

Already a number of people - primarily Republicans - have called any advance of the 14 sites to national monument status as a land grab. They are framing it in an issue of big government versus the people. It is true that once national monument status is conferred land uses are restricted with the courts over the years allowing land still in private ownership to continue as their grandfathered uses but  that is it. Ultimately, the federal government will acquire the land through fair market value. They simply wait out the owners until they are ready to sell since no one else essentially wants to buy land that is so restricted.

It is in the truest sense “taking of land.” However, it isn’t going into control of the Forest Service, the military or other government agency. National monument status is essentially a preservation mode and is often a precursor to national park status as what happened in Death Valley.

There is, however, a higher issue to consider. Preserving segments of this land either in their natural status or for reasonable access for all Americans present and future is a legitimate goal. The question, of course, is tempering how far the government goes. It is a fuzzy line at best.

It should be noted that both of California’s most famous national parks - Yosemite Valley and Death Valley - all owe their existence to Republican presidents. Yosemite Valley was the nation’s first national park championed by Theodore Roosevelt. Death Valley was conferred national monument status in 1933 during the final month of Herbert Hoover’s administration. It was elevated to national park status by Congress in the first few months of President Clinton being in office.

The debate should center on the worthiness of the proposals first and foremost.
If they are indeed national treasures then the discussion should proceed from there.

Imagine if private ownership trumped national monument or national park status. Yosemite Valley would have been clear cut long time ago and perhaps replanted with young saplings. The odds are commercial development would have occurred. The same could be said for all of the 761,228 acres of Yosemite National park.

There are those who believe the government should sell off national parks and such as they should have no government ownership. It is a legitimate viewpoint just as are those that support national parks.

Government, in the purest form of the American experience, exists to do what the individual can’t do on their own. While national parks aren’t as pure of an application of that philosophy as wastewater treatment, national defense, fire and police protection, clean and adequate water supplies, public roads, and garbage service it does hit on perhaps the second tier that includes public education and regulation of our airways among others.

Having visited the four areas in question over the years a strong argument could be made for conferring upon them a unique federal status that will preserve and prolong their existence for public use.

As much as one should cast a wary eye at a federal government that already owns just under a half of California, these four areas are worth a serious consideration for elevation to national monument status.