A controversy is brewing over the ownership and use of underdeveloped and agricultural land in the U.S. The cries of land fraud, land dispossession and the need for land reform are uttered frequently from a wide diversity of groups.
On one side are small farmers and landowners, conservationists, elderly retired people, and officials who fake their law enforcement duties seriously.
The trends feeding this struggle over the land are:
A growing concentration of land ownership, particularly in agricultural areas such as California and Florida, by giant agri-business corporations. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has information on land ownership concentration but refuses to make it public.
Corporate speculators are buying up large land tracts, and by legal and political maneuvers, are jacking up development land prices that increase housing and other development costs. There’s a lot of secrecy about these purchases, thereby depriving nearby residents from learning what the corporation plans to do that might drastically upset their way of life. International Telephone & Telegraph, for example, is quietly buying up tens of thousands of acres in northwest Maine and isn’t saying why. Attention is focusing on the gigantic land holdings of the railroads obtained free from the U.S. government in the 19th Century. A group headed by Sens . Fred Harris (D-Okla.) has demanded that Southern Pacific Railroad give up these surplus lands, claiming they are not being used foe railroad purposes as required under the original land grants.
Public interest lawyers in Appalachia are studying the notorious broad-form deed used decades ago by corporate lawyers to fleece innocent mountain folk -of valuable coal and other minerals on their land.
Property tax reformers are documenting their charges that large timber, coal, and oil and gas companies are among those who are vastly underpaying their taxes through politically inspired low assessments. Schools and other services suffer a, a result. Small businesses and homeowners pay higher taxes as well.
Interstate land sales frauds directed at retired people who want to settle in Florida, Arizona or other retirement centers, are mushrooming. High-pressure tactics and deception have often cost elderly people their entire investments in misrepresented acreage. Federal law enforcement agencies are paying too little attention to these abuses.
7. Congress is now deliberating a national land use policy to prod the states into establishing planning programs for such major land uses as highways, parks, mass transit systems, airports, utilities and other large developments. The chief sponsor of this legislation is conservative Sen. Henry Jackson (D-Wash.).
All this adds up to a recognition of just how and limited the nation’s land resources are becoming, and the potential loss to future generations. It is the present and future duty of all Americans to keep the land from being seriously polluted.
Our founding fathers recognized this in the great decisions they made. The early conservationists in Teddy Roosevelt’s days met the challenges new to that period. It is time now to stop the drive to monopolize and despoil the land by a few in order to profiteer from the many.