Pick us off one at a time

Walter E. Williams

8/30/2000 12:00:00 AM - Walter E. Williams
Richard Mann, a North Carolina farmer, shot a wolf that was threatening his cattle. When he went to bury the animal the next day, he was confronted by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) officials who charged him with killing a red wolf -- a federally protected endangered species. Mann was fined $2,000 and required to perform "community services" -- building wolf houses and feeding the wolves. John Taylor, of Mount Vernon, Va., was ordered not to build a small house on his lot to accommodate his wheelchair-bound wife. The FWS says it would harm a bald eagle nest located 90 feet away. Oregon's Board of Forestry has forced Alvin and Marsha Seiber to set aside 37 acres of their 200-acre commercially harvestable land to protect the northern spotted owl. Paul Presault purchased his Burlington, Vt., residence in 1975. About 60 feet from his house was a railroad track. After he moved in, the railroad company pulled up the track and formally abandoned the line. Under an 1899 agreement, the land was to be returned to the original owners or successors. The City of Burlington had other plans. They simply took the property and built a bike and pedestrian path. People ride through Presault's, property creating a nuisance. Every week, 15 women gathered at Diane Reiter's Denver home for Bible study, prayer and dinner. There was no loud music, speeches or other noise. Nonetheless, the Denver zoning administration served Reiter with a cease-and-desist order citing a municipal ordinance that prohibits more than one "prayer meeting" a month in a private home. These cases and many more are summarized in the "National Directory of Environmental and Regulatory Victims," a publication of the Washington, D.C.-based National Center for Public Policy Research. They represent gross violations of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, namely, "... nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation." You say: "What do you mean, Williams? The government didn't take their property; the people still hold title." Holding title to private property, all by itself, doesn't mean very much. For example, suppose the government recognizes that you can hold title to your house but forbids you from living in it. The fact that you hold title to the house would be meaningless because the government has restricted your options. By decree the government has reduced the value of your property, and as such it is a "taking" of property without just compensation in violation of the U.S. Constitution. Let's look at Oregon's Board of Forestry forcing the Seiber family to set aside 37 acres of their 200-acre plot to protect the northern spotted owl. It just might be that protecting the spotted owl is vital to the national interests. But the burden and cost of protecting the spotted owl should be borne by all Americans, not fall on particular Americans -- Mr. and Mrs. Seiber. Justice and fairness require that the Seibers be compensated for the loss in value of their property from having to set aside 37 acres. Just compensation doesn't go over big with environmentalist wackos, simply because it would reveal the cost of their agenda. They achieve their agenda better simply by getting federal, state and local governments to run roughshod over people's rights. They pick us off one at a time. The rest of us don't know how our neighbors are being victimized and, if we did, I doubt whether there'd be many of us who'd care and be willing to help defend our fellow citizen. We should all pause and remember that if the government can rip off one citizen, what's to say one of us won't be next?