Last month, I celebrated my seventh anniversary of becoming a U.S. citizen. On that glorious day, I had to recite the Oath of Allegiance and the Pledge of Allegiance. We ended the ceremony with singing the National Anthem.
That was a proud day for me and my family. Today, however, I’m reminded constantly of why I came to America. I wanted to be free and to own land where the government couldn’t take it away. But, I’m finding America is quickly turning away from her Constitution and our government is growing to be like those of Europe.
I recite the Oath of Allegiance with pride and commitment every year, but today there was one particular sentence that literally seemed to slap me in the face –
“that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic;…so help me God.”
Our Constitution is indeed under attack by those “domestic” forces who want to force their socialistic and materialistic values on the rest of us. For the first time, I have a new understanding of why I am dedicating so much time and energy to helping the Exotic Wildlife Association (EWA) with legislative and regulatory matters.
I am defending our Republic from the same evils I left behind in Europe.
Today, the EWA is concentrating on a clever and deceptive program that wants more control over our land and private property. It’s called a Habitat Conservation Plan, or more specifically, the Southern Edwards Plateau Habitat Conservation Plan or the SEP-HCP. To understand these plans better, I want to give you some history.
History of HCP’s
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was passed in 1973. It prohibits the “take” of listed species through direct harm or habitat destruction. By “take” they mean “to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct.”
In 1982, as a way to try and streamline the cumbersome permitting process of the ESA, it was amended to give the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) the ability to issue permits for the “incidental taking” of listed endangered species. This led to the Service promulgating regulations that was then followed up by compiling the “Handbook for the Habitat Conservation Planning and Incidental Take Permitting Process” (The Handbook).
Within the 396-page Handbook, the Service regards the HCP as one of their greatest successes of reducing the burden of the ESA on landowners. Habitat Conservation Plans have been created to induce a landowner to voluntarily limit the use of their land, for which they are required to pay a hefty fee.
In reality, HCPs have proven to be a successful way for government agencies and conservation groups to influence and restrict the use of private land in a much easier and less expensive way while discouraging landowners from fighting. They show landowners the proverbial carrot by promising in exchange a peace and security that will most likely prove false in the future.
HCPs are a long-term, mostly perpetual agreement between an entity or individual and the Department of Interior. Through this agreement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also offers a “No Surprise Policy” that provides assurance that, if the you respect the plan, you need fear no action by the federal government if you take an endangered species.
The Handbook provides guidance for how to form an HCP. Included in this guidance, is the suggestion, if not the “strong encouragement,” to list not only the endangered species, but also species that are not listed under the ESA.
This would be a way to hedge for future events in case other species were to be listed and the landowner would not need to go through the permitting process, amend the contract, and possibly pay more fees for that new species. The inclusion of proposed, candidate, or unlisted species in an HCP is voluntary and is the decision of the applicant, but be careful what you ask for.
The Incidental Taking Permit, according to the Handbook, saves the property owner only from incidental taking due to an otherwise lawful activity like clearing brush with a dozer. But, that “taking” must be subjected to mitigation (payment of a fee) proportionate to the impact and the impact must be kept to a minimum. By agreement, the taking must be monitored by the federal agency for compliance.
The HCP is unfortunately the typical progressive program. Once they created the framework for HCPs in 1982, in the first decade of implementation the Service issued only 14 incidental take permits nationwide for areas of less than 1,000 acres. By 1996, 25 HCPs were issued exceeding 10,000 acres; another 25 exceeded 100,000 acres and another 18 exceeding 500,000 acres.
Defenders of Wildlife, a worldwide environmental organization dedicated to preserving species, now claims that there are more than 350 HCPs covering more than 30 million acres. This process, that was adopted primarily to address single developments, has expanded to a broad-based landscape level planning tool.
The SEP-HCP claims they want their plan to cover a minimum of 10,000 acres within each of the seven counties potentially affecting over 70,000 acres by this plan.
There are a variety of funding mechanisms for HCPs, but which one that is used depends on the circumstances and normally who files for the application. An individual, a business like a developer, a city, a county, or a state agency can all file for an application.
One applicant, Black Hawk Pacific Gas and Electric, had to put up a $100,000 bond for mitigation to pay for land acquisition to replace what they wanted to develop. And, that’s just one instance of the government forcing someone else to pay for these HCPs.
If a state agency files, the money has to be appropriated by the state legislature. But, in plans like the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan where the City of Austin and Travis County created a plan, the cost was distributed to all homeowners and landowners within the boundary of the plan. In Louisiana, the Black Bear Restoration and Recovery Plan relies on a number of different government agencies (tax dollars), individuals, and civic activities to protect the habitat of the bear.
When fees are used, they fluctuate from $1250 per acre like in the Metropolitan Bakersfield, California HCP, to $550 per acre in the desert land of Clark County, Nevada HCP.
The Balconies Canyonlands Conservation Plan has fees set by the City of Austin and Travis County that vary from $5,500 per acre of “prime warbler habitat” down to $1,500 per acre for lesser habitat. Landowners may also “donate” land in lieu of paying fees called set-asides or place perpetual conservation easements on their land. All fees go toward managing the preserve and acquiring private land.
The total cost of the Balcones plan is $159.9 million. The city of Austin has provided 2,500 acres and $25.7 million through bonds approved by voters. Some $39 million came from the homeowners and landowners who were required to pay for “Participation Certificates” and the rest came from organizations like The Nature Conservancy. It’s been a disastrous mishmash of funding that borders on criminal in many cases, but because it’s sanctioned by our federal government, it’s all legitimate and those unfortunate landowners caught in the middle have to pay.
In the Metropolitan Bakersfield HCP, the planners accepted “donations” in lieu of payment of up to three acres for every one taken or wished to be developed, another form of “mitigation” that many consider extortion by our government.
Only in America are there laws that force landowners to pay the government to use their land rather than the government following the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, which requires the government to pay just compensation.
The Handbook clearly states that landowners have a “choice” when it comes to HCPs. They can choose to “do nothing” and deal with the Service on a case-by-case basis when they want to do something with their property that involves an incidental take of endangered species, they can file for an individual HCP, or they can choose to join together into a region-wide plan like proposed in the SEP-HCP.
Unfortunately, these choices don’t leave landowners a “good” option and that is indicative of the Endangered Species Act and how it coerces local governments and individuals into having to comply with their schemes.
Under the Balcones Canyonland Conservation Plan (BCCP), the City of Austin and Travis County rejected the “do nothing” alternative and chose the HCP claiming doing nothing would have fragmented the habitat and been too detrimental to the two song birds. Sometimes you wonder who is saying these things – local governments or federal agencies and their paid staffers.
Travis County wanted to make sure that it could collect the taxes from land being developed in a timely fashion without waiting on individual federal permits being issued by the Service on a piecemeal basis. However, nobody seemed to care what the affected landowners thought or wanted, which proved the BCCP was developer and government driven. The landowners were the meal ticket and they had what the government wanted – private property.
They could have bought rural land far away from Austin to mitigate, but the Service opposed the idea because they insisted that the habitat needed to be preserved had to be in Travis County – of course they did.
One of the unbelievable options the creators of the BBCP wanted was to expand the area for the plan from six to thirty counties. This is exactly what Bexar County and the City of San Antonio are attempting to do with the SEP-HCP. They want to broaden their ability to tie up acres in other counties to make up for the acres they wanted to develop around Camp Bullis.
Under the BCCP, the plan to extend it to other counties was scratched because no area had ever encompassed six counties, let alone 30, and that “limited community interest exists among the diverse rural and urban constituents of these larger regions.”
Well, guess what, that same sentiment exists about the SEP-HCP by the surrounding, but included counties. Many don’t want to be affected by Bexar County and the City of San Antonio’s problems, but they don’t seem to be listening.
The “solution” they decided in the BCCP was to expand the plan to 35,428 acres all within Travis County managed by both the county and City of Austin and funded with a variety of mechanisms. With those funds, they have created a permanent preserve through acquisition.
But, what isn’t talked about is how landowners weren’t given a choice of participating or not. If their land is determined to be habitat for the two birds and they don’t comply with the federal Endangered Species Act, they could face up to $25,000 to $50,000 in fines per violation or one year in jail. Does that sound like a choice?
Another example is the Lost Pines HCP (LPHCP) in Bastrop County, Texas. The Service claimed the Houston Toad, an endangered species, was threatened by development and an HCP was needed.
They rejected the “No-action alternative” because it “would not encourage the voluntary management or conservation of the Houston Toad on private lands.” And, they explained now landowners will have the opportunity to learn about the Houston Toad every time they apply for a permit.
The LPHCP is a thirty-year plan that addresses the construction of single homes, commercial and low density multi-family homes, and agricultural or wildlife management of the land.
Permits under the Plan allow the building of a home and other improvements, such as a pool or a barn, and other the maintenance of those things, provided it does not affect more than the one acre. Ranchers are free to use their land for agriculture or wildlife management, provided that they respect the ratio of animal unit per acre given to them and they do not change from native to improved grasses, or crops.
Should they increase their herd or change their Bluestem grass to Bermuda, they are not covered by the plan. In other words, the government is now their managing partner in their family ranch or farm and the landowners have become serfs on their own land.
We have a Choice
The SEP HCP (Southern Edwards Plateau HCP) is being created right now. There is no “official” plan, but representatives from all seven counties are sitting at a table determining our future. I don’t know about you, but when I became a citizen of the United States, I learned that we elected representatives to make these kinds of decisions and not an ad-hoc group of chosen people.
Most landowners and local officials didn’t even know about this project until the EWA exposed it publicly.
Property owners in the seven counties of Bexar, Medina, Bandera, Kerr, Comal, Blanco, and Kendall must be involved. They must be aware of the insidious dangers plans like these can bring.
Don’t let Bexar County and the City of San Antonio get rich by developing their land at the expense of yours. In essence, they are willing to condemn your land so they can continue to grow and develop theirs. As one landowner in Bastrop said: “we didn’t sign up for this plan, but now we’re stuck with it.”
In Texas, every county has anywhere from 11 to 40 endangered species. Multiply that by 254 counties and you have a potential disaster in Texas if we don’t stand up and stop this madness now. We, the people, still run this Country, but those in Washington and our government agencies seemed to have forgotten that point.
It’s our responsibility to stand up and stop these kinds of intrusive and burdensome programs and tell Washington to leave us alone. This is the right battle and if you agree, it’s your responsibility to tell your local officials to stop these meetings and stand up for their taxpayers, not Washington’s bureaucrats.
Whatever you decide, get informed, and know the truth. Search for proven facts. When we are exposed to ideas or opportunities, we have a choice; we can recognize the danger and turn away, or we can allow unhealthy thoughts and solutions to take us captive.
The supporters claim that HCPs are a way to keep ESA under local control. HCPs do not leave anything under local control.
Our Founders pledged “With a firm reliance on the protection of the Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each others our lives, our fortune, and our Sacred Honor” for their freedom and their future Republic. Our Constitution and our daily life inherited from them are now in jeopardy. It is your time to fight for your life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.
Pledge of Alliance:
I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.