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Dr. Michael Coffman, Discerning the Times

Rur­al landown­ers who desire to use their own prop­er­ty are shocked when they learn new reg­u­la­tions increas­ing­ly restrict them from doing almost any­thing. These reg­u­la­tions osten­si­bly pro­tect endan­gered species, view­sheds, open space, or a host of oth­er rea­sons for lim­it­ing the own­ers rights to use their land. Although the envi­ron­ment and soci­ety alleged­ly ben­e­fit from the reg­u­la­tions, it is the landown­er who pays the price through low­ered prop­er­ty val­ues. Rarely does the prop­er­ty own­er receive just com­pen­sa­tion for the soci­etal benefit―as required by the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion and almost every state con­sti­tu­tion. Rather the prop­er­ty own­er is required to pay the entire cost, even though all of soci­ety sup­pos­ed­ly benefits.

Essen­tial Back­ground Reading
Why Prop­er­ty Rights Matter
The Prob­lem With The Endan­gered Species Act
Inter­na­tion­al Dom­i­na­tion of US Envi­ron­men­tal Law and Pri­vate Property
The Wild­lands Project

These reg­u­la­tions are usu­al­ly devel­oped by plan­ners or oth­er pro­fes­sion­als who have no real-life expe­ri­ence in rur­al liv­ing. Because they have no real under­stand­ing of what is required to devel­op exploit nat­ur­al resources, they estab­lish ide­al­is­tic arbi­trary and capri­cious rules that make farm­ing, ranch­ing and tim­ber grow­ing increas­ing­ly dif­fi­cult and less prof­itable. When some resource users find they can no longer farm, ranch or pro­duce tim­ber prof­itably they are forced to sell their prop­er­ty at a great­ly reduced val­ue because the same reg­u­la­tions deval­ue the land. Those who own prop­er­ty near an urban area face an added bur­den when their ad val­orem tax­es sky­rock­et due to the grow­ing poten­tial for devel­op­ment. Yet, when they try to sell their land for devel­op­ment they find their prop­er­ty val­ue has plum­met­ed because reg­u­la­tions requir­ing open space and oth­er soci­etal ben­e­fits severe­ly lim­it the abil­i­ty to devel­op the land and there­fore its value.

Prop­er­ty own­ers in Amer­i­ca have always accept­ed the need for reg­u­la­tions. Com­mon law since the time of the Magna Char­ta has always allowed the gov­ern­ment to restrict prop­er­ty use that would oth­er­wise cause prob­lems of safe­ty, health, harm or nui­sance to the com­mu­ni­ty or the prop­er­ty own­er’s neigh­bors. How­ev­er, the impo­si­tion of reg­u­la­tions to pro­vide vague ben­e­fits to soci­ety or the envi­ron­ment is rel­a­tive­ly new in Amer­i­ca. This new process is called sus­tain­able devel­op­ment. With sus­tain­able devel­op­ment, no longer do prop­er­ty own­ers in the Unit­ed States have unalien­able prop­er­ty rights, as penned in the Dec­la­ra­tion of Inde­pen­dence and pro­tect­ed in the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion’s Bill of Rights. Instead, gov­ern­ment impos­es on prop­er­ty own­ers what are termed “usufruc­to­ry rights.” Since unalien­able prop­er­ty rights pro­vide the foun­da­tion to lib­er­ty and wealth in Amer­i­ca, sus­tain­able devel­op­ment por­tends dire con­se­quences to all Americans.

By def­i­n­i­tion, usufruc­to­ry rights are the rights to use and enjoy the prof­its and advan­tages of some­thing belong­ing to anoth­er, as long as the prop­er­ty is not dam­aged or altered in any way. Con­cep­tu­al­ly, it is sim­i­lar to rent­ing or leas­ing some­thing with­in lim­its set by its true own­er. The usufruct sys­tem of prop­er­ty use is derived from the Latin word usus­fruc­tus. Orig­i­nal­ly it defined Roman prop­er­ty inter­ests between a mas­ter and his slave held under a usus fruc­tus (Latin: “use and enjoy­ment”) bond. The Romans expand­ed this con­cept to cre­ate an estate of uses in land rather than an estate of pos­ses­sion. Hav­ing seized lands belong­ing to con­quered king­doms, the Romans con­sid­ered them pub­lic lands, and rent­ed (usus­fruc­tus) them to Roman sol­diers. Thus the emper­or retained the estate (pos­ses­sion) in the lands, but gave the occu­pi­er an estate of uses.

The grow­ing moun­tain of envi­ron­men­tal and oth­er reg­u­la­tions that sup­pos­ed­ly ben­e­fits the pub­lic good in the Unit­ed States today has stripped Amer­i­cans of the unalien­able right to pos­sess land. Instead, Amer­i­cans increas­ing­ly have only the usufruct right to use the land and pay tax­es (rent). As with the Romans, the gov­ern­ment retains the right to deter­mine how the land is used.

The Link Between Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment and The Wild­lands Project

The usufruct prin­ci­ples of sus­tain­able devel­op­ment first became pub­lic at the 1976 Unit­ed Nations Con­fer­ence on Human Set­tle­ments (Habi­tat I) held in Van­cou­ver. For instance, the Pre­am­ble of Agen­da Item 10 of the Con­fer­ence Report states that:

Land…can­not be treat­ed as an ordi­nary asset, con­trolled by indi­vid­u­als and sub­ject to the pres­sures and inef­fi­cien­cies of the mar­ket. Pri­vate land own­er­ship is also a prin­ci­pal instru­ment of accu­mu­la­tion and con­cen­tra­tion of wealth and there­fore con­tributes to social injus­tice; if unchecked, it may become a major obsta­cle in the plan­ning and imple­men­ta­tion of devel­op­ment schemes. The pro­vi­sion of decent dwellings and healthy con­di­tions for the peo­ple can only be achieved if land is used in the inter­ests of soci­ety as a whole. Pub­lic con­trol of land use is there­fore indis­pens­able.…” (Ital­ics added)

Through­out this UN doc­u­ment the social­ist mod­el for pri­vate prop­er­ty rights are set forth as the basis for future Unit­ed Nations policy:

Pub­lic own­er­ship or effec­tive con­trol of land in the pub­lic inter­est is the sin­gle most impor­tant means of…achieving a more equi­table dis­tri­b­u­tion of the ben­e­fits of devel­op­ment…. Gov­ern­ments must main­tain full juris­dic­tion and exer­cise com­plete sov­er­eign­ty over such land…. Change in the use of land…should be sub­ject to pub­lic con­trol and regulation…of the com­mon good. (Ital­ics added)

State con­trol over pri­vate prop­er­ty has been cen­tral to every inter­na­tion­al treaty since the 1970s. The Unit­ed Nations’ World Com­mis­sion on Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment for­mal­ized this into inter­na­tion­al pol­i­cy when it pub­lished its report Our Com­mon Future in 1987. This land­mark report helped trig­ger a wide range of actions, includ­ing the UNEarth Sum­mits” in 1992 and 2002, the Inter­na­tion­al Cli­mate Change Con­ven­tion, The Con­ven­tion on Bio­log­i­cal Diver­si­ty and world­wide “Agen­da 21″ pro­grams. Agen­da 21 is a 40 chap­ter mas­ter plan to reor­ga­nize nation­al laws to the social­ist prin­ci­ples of cen­tral con­trol. The Unit­ed States signed Agen­da 21 dur­ing the 1992 Earth Sum­mit at Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Chap­ter 15.3 requires “urgent and deci­sive action” be tak­en “to con­serve and main­tain genes, species and ecosys­tems, with a view to the sus­tain­able man­age­ment and use of bio­log­i­cal resources.” To do this chap­ter 15.4 requires that “Governments…should:

(a) Press for the ear­ly entry into force of the Con­ven­tion on Bio­log­i­cal Diver­si­ty, with the widest pos­si­ble par­tic­i­pa­tion; and
(b) Devel­op nation­al strate­gies for the con­ser­va­tion of bio­log­i­cal diver­si­ty and the sus­tain­able use of bio­log­i­cal resources.

Chap­ter 15.5 of Agen­da 21 con­tin­ues by stat­ing that “con­ser­va­tion of ecosys­tems and nat­ur­al habitats…should include the rein­force­ment of ter­res­tri­al… pro­tect­ed area systems…and promot[ion of] envi­ron­men­tal­ly sound and sus­tain­able devel­op­ment in areas adja­cent to pro­tect­ed areas with a view to fur­ther­ing pro­tec­tion of these areas.” The Unit­ed Nations and its inter­na­tion­al allies designed the Con­ven­tion on Bio­log­i­cal Diver­si­ty to be the work­horse in ful­fill­ing these require­ments. The treaty was mere­ly a 18 page out­line of what need­ed to be done. Sen­a­tor Jesse Helms (R‑NC) cor­rect­ly called it “a pre­am­ble false­ly described as a treaty.” The imple­ment­ing lan­guage was to be added after enough nations rat­i­fied it to put it into force. Even so, Arti­cle 8 of the treaty uses almost iden­ti­cal lan­guage used in Agen­da 21:

(a) Pro­mote a sys­tem of pro­tect­ed areas or areas where spe­cial mea­sures need to be tak­en to con­serve bio­log­i­cal diversity;
(e) Pro­mote envi­ron­men­tal­ly sound and sus­tain­able devel­op­ment in areas adja­cent to pro­tect­ed areas with a view to fur­ther­ing pro­tec­tion of these areas.”

By August of 1993 the Clin­ton admin­is­tra­tion accept­ed Agen­da 21’s chal­lenge when it direct­ed “nat­ur­al resource and envi­ron­men­tal agencies…develop a joint strat­e­gy to help the Unit­ed States ful­fill its exist­ing inter­na­tion­al oblig­a­tions (e.g. Con­ven­tion on Bio­log­i­cal Diver­si­ty, Agen­da 21)…the exec­u­tive branch should direct fed­er­al agen­cies to eval­u­ate nation­al policies…in light of inter­na­tion­al poli­cies and oblig­a­tions, and to amend nation­al poli­cies to achieve inter­na­tion­al objec­tives.” This effort became the pri­ma­ry rea­son for the need for vice pres­i­dent Gore and pres­i­dent Clin­ton to rein­vent gov­ern­ment.

To accom­plish this, pres­i­dent Clin­ton also cre­at­ed the Pres­i­den­t’s Coun­cil on Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment. The coun­cil was com­prised of green-ori­ent­ed indus­tri­al lead­ers, nat­ur­al resource cab­i­net heads and lead­ers of major envi­ron­men­tal groups. The coun­cil pro­duced a host of social­ist guide­lines to imple­ment Agen­da 21 in a series of doc­u­ments under the ban­ner of Sus­tain­able Amer­i­ca from 1996 to 1999. These became the offi­cial poli­cies of the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment and were heav­i­ly pro­mot­ed by envi­ron­men­tal non-gov­ern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions (NGOs) and foun­da­tions. All are cen­tered on the usufruct con­cept of property.

The Unit­ed Nations intend­ed that the imple­ment­ing lan­guage for the Bio­di­ver­si­ty Treaty be tak­en from the Glob­al Bio­di­ver­si­ty Assess­ment (GBA), a 1040 page tome that osten­si­bly sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly defined the rea­son and the method­ol­o­gy for pro­tect­ing bio­di­ver­si­ty. The GBA estab­lish­es the need for the usufruct concept,

  • Prop­er­ty rights are not absolute and unchang­ing, but rather a com­plex, dynam­ic and shift­ing rela­tion­ship between two or more par­ties, over space or time. Sec­tion
  • One option for ensur­ing against exces­sive species deple­tion is the allo­ca­tion of prop­er­ty rights in order to cre­ate mar­kets. Sec­tion 12.7.5
  • A com­mon char­ac­ter­is­tic of many ecosys­tems is that resources are non‑exclusive in their use: they are in the nature of local pub­lic goods. Prop­er­ty rights can still be allo­cat­ed to the envi­ron­men­tal pub­lic good, but in this case they should be restrict­ed to usufruc­tu­al or user rights. Har­vest­ing quo­ta, emis­sions per­mits and the devel­op­ment rights are exam­ples of such rights. Sec­tion 12.7.5
  • The point here is that the real­lo­ca­tion of prop­er­ty rights implies the redis­tri­b­u­tion of assets.” sec­tion 12.7.5 (Ital­ics added)

The usufruct con­cept of prop­er­ty had to be in place before any part of Agen­da 21 and the Bio­di­ver­si­ty Treaty could be imple­ment­ed. Per­haps the most chill­ing, how­ev­er, is that in order to pro­tect bio­di­ver­si­ty, the GBA called for plac­ing vast areas into wilder­ness and pro­tect­ed from human use:

Put this map into your GPS, it will tell where you soon cannot go. The UN’s manifestation of forcing people into stack and pack cities.

Put this map into your GPS, it will tell where you soon can­not go. The UN’s man­i­fes­ta­tion of forc­ing peo­ple into stack and pack cities.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive areas of all major ecosys­tems in a region need to be reserved.… Reserved “blocks should be as large as pos­si­ble.… Buffer zones should be estab­lished around core areas and cor­ri­dors should con­nect these areas. This basic design is cen­tral to the Wild­lands Project in the Unit­ed States (Noss, 1992), a controversial…strategy…to expand nat­ur­al habi­tats and cor­ri­dors to cov­er as much as 30% of the US land area.” (Sec­tion

In oth­er words, the Wild­lands Project was designed to be the cor­ner­stone of the Con­ven­tion on Bio­log­i­cal Diver­si­ty. Although the rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the Con­ven­tion on Bio­log­i­cal Diver­si­ty was stopped in the U.S. Sen­ate in 1994, explained below), mil­lions of dol­lars are spent annu­al­ly to imple­ment it with­out ben­e­fit of the treaty. It has already destroyed the lives of thou­sands of peo­ple. Even­tu­al­ly, every Amer­i­can will expe­ri­ence its severe consequences.

The Wild­lands Project

The ref­er­ence to Noss, 1992, in the GBA is to a spe­cial issue of Wild Earth, a pub­li­ca­tion of the Ceno­zoic Soci­ety, a NGO com­mit­ted to re-wild­ing the Unit­ed States. In this issue, Dr. Reed Noss lays out in detail the land con­ser­va­tion strat­e­gy to imple­ment the Wild­lands Project.1 The Wild­lands Strat­e­gy calls for estab­lish­ing core wilder­ness reserves that are inter­con­nect­ed by wilder­ness cor­ri­dors, all of which would be sur­round­ed by buffer zones man­aged to pro­tect the wilder­ness areas (See Fig­ure 1).

The Wild­lands Project calls for estab­lish­ing thou­sands of core reserves and inter­con­nect­ing cor­ri­dors from Alas­ka and the North­west Ter­ri­to­ries to Chile and Argentina.

The strat­e­gy nor­mal­ly is accom­plished in five steps:Wildlands_core_diagram

1. Iden­ti­fy exist­ing pro­tect­ed areas such as fed­er­al and state wilder­ness areas, parks, nation­al mon­u­ments, refuges and oth­er des­ig­nat­ed sites. They should be from 100,000 to 25 mil­lion acres in size. These are already wilder­ness or close to it. Such tracts would serve as “core reserves” com­plete­ly off-lim­its to human activity.

2. Iden­ti­fy oth­er mul­ti­ple-use gov­ern­ment land that can be polit­i­cal­ly forced into wilder­ness sta­tus. Road­less areas are high­est pri­or­i­ty, but exist­ing roads can be closed if road­less areas are not available.

3. Cre­ate wilder­ness cor­ri­dors along streams, rivers and moun­tain ranges that inter­con­nect the core reserves.

4. Pur­chase, con­demn or reg­u­late pri­vate prop­er­ty to fill in the gaps where pub­lic land did not exist. Usufruct reg­u­la­tion is pre­ferred because the gov­ern­ment would not have to pay for the land.

5. Cre­ate buffer areas around land not in core reserves or inter­con­nect­ing wilder­ness to man­age them sus­tain­ably so they pro­tect the core wilder­ness areas.

Wild­lands Project co-author Reed Noss explains that in the core, cor­ri­dor and buffer areas, “The col­lec­tive needs of non-human species must take prece­dence over the needs and desires of humans.“1 The Wild­lands Project (now Wild­lands Net­work) is the mas­ter plan for both Agen­da 21 and the Bio­di­ver­si­ty Treaty, and rep­re­sents a grandiose design to trans­form at least half the land area of the con­ti­nen­tal Unit­ed States into an immense “eco-park” cleansed of mod­ern indus­try and pri­vate prop­er­ty. Says Noss;

One half of the land area of the 48 con­ter­mi­nous [Unit­ed] States be encom­passed in core [wilder­ness] reserves and inner cor­ri­dor zones (essen­tial­ly exten­sions of core reserves) with­in the next few decades.… Half of a region in wilder­ness is a rea­son­able guess of what it will take to restore viable pop­u­la­tions of large car­ni­vores and nat­ur­al dis­tur­bance regimes, assum­ing that most of the oth­er 50 per­cent is man­aged intel­li­gent­ly as buffer zone… Even­tu­al­ly, a wilder­ness net­work would dom­i­nate a region and thus would itself con­sti­tute the matrix, with human habi­ta­tions being the islands.2

The Wild­lands con­cept is large­ly the work of Dave Fore­man, the prin­ci­pal founder of the eco-ter­ror­ist group Earth First! and a for­mer mem­ber of the board of the Sier­ra Club. Fore­man describes the Wild­lands Project as an effort to “tie the North Amer­i­can con­ti­nent into a sin­gle Bio­di­ver­si­ty Pre­serve.” Fore­man sum­ma­rizes Wild­lands as “a bold attempt to grope our way back to 1492” — that is, to repeal a half-mil­len­ni­um of West­ern civ­i­liza­tion, with its unique bless­ings of mate­r­i­al pros­per­i­ty, tech­no­log­i­cal progress, pri­vate prop­er­ty and indi­vid­ual rights. Indeed, the vision state­ment of the Wild­lands Project is stun­ning in scope;

Our vision is sim­ple: we live for the day when Griz­zlies in Chi­huahua have an unbro­ken con­nec­tion to Griz­zlies in Alas­ka; when Gray Wolf pop­u­la­tions are con­tin­ues from New Mex­i­co to Green­land; when vast unbro­ken forests and flow­ing plains again thrive and sup­port pre-Columbian pop­u­la­tions of plants and ani­mals; when humans dwell with respect, har­mo­ny, and affec­tion for the land…3

John Davis, edi­tor of Wild Earth, acknowl­edges that the Wild­lands Project seeks noth­ing less than “the end of indus­tri­al civ­i­liza­tion.… Every­thing civ­i­lized must go…“4

In this bizarre scheme, human civ­i­liza­tion must be rad­i­cal­ly recon­fig­ured, mines would be closed, roads torn from the land­scape, tim­ber har­vest­ing stopped and human pop­u­la­tions relo­cat­ed. All of this is to be done, accord­ing to Wild­lands co-founder Michael Soulé, in har­mo­ny with a prophet­ic vision: “The ora­cles are the fish­es of the riv­er, the fish­ers of the for­est and artic­u­late toads. Our nat­u­ral­ists and con­ser­va­tion biol­o­gists can help us trans­late their utter­ances. Our spokesper­sons, fund-rais­ers and grass-roots orga­niz­ers will show us how to imple­ment their sage advice.“5

Defeat­ing the Bio­di­ver­si­ty Treaty

All of this could be dis­missed as flat­ly ridicu­lous were it not for its cen­tral role in the UN Con­ven­tion on Bio­log­i­cal Diver­si­ty and its near reli­gious sup­port by near­ly all of the envi­ron­men­tal NGOs. Agen­da 21 and the Bio­di­ver­si­ty Treaty would per­mit a restruc­tured and unac­count­able UN Trustee­ship Coun­cil to reg­u­late any human activ­i­ty that presents poten­tial harm to bio­log­i­cal diver­si­ty. Sec­re­tary Gen­er­al Kofi Annan’s July 18, 1997 UN Reform plans, “[the Trustee­ship Coun­cil will] be recon­sti­tut­ed as the forum through which Mem­ber states exer­cise their col­lec­tive trustee­ship for the integri­ty of the glob­al envi­ron­ment and com­mon areas.… At the same time, it should serve to link the Unit­ed Nations and civ­il soci­ety in address­ing these areas of glob­al concern.“6 In prin­ci­ple, this man­date would cov­er all human activ­i­ty, giv­en that almost any­thing humans do is deemed as harm­ful to bio­log­i­cal diversity.


The Sen­ate was asked to autho­rize the cre­ation of imple­ment­ing “pro­to­cols” that would be writ­ten after the treaty had been rat­i­fied and would be bind­ing upon the sig­na­to­ries. The “fac­tu­al” infor­ma­tion upon which the imple­ment­ing lan­guage was to be based was found in a 1,140-page UN Glob­al Bio­di­ver­si­ty Assess­ment (GBA) that was in draft form when the Sen­ate was con­sid­er­ing the treaty.

The Sen­ate was poised to rat­i­fy the Bio­di­ver­si­ty Treaty in Sep­tem­ber 1994, when the Amer­i­can sheep indus­try obtained a por­tion of the draft GBA from the Inter­na­tion­al Union for the Con­ser­va­tion of Nature (IUCN) in Switzer­land, the orig­i­nal author of the treaty. As not­ed above, the GBA specif­i­cal­ly cites the Wild­lands Project as the tem­plate for pro­tect­ing bio­di­ver­si­ty. It was the smok­ing gun.

The draft GBA, along with maps pro­vid­ed by Envi­ron­men­tal Per­spec­tives, Inc. depict­ing what this would look like when ful­ly imple­ment­ed, arrived the day of the vote and was tak­en to the Sen­ate floor by Sen­a­tor Kay Bai­ley Hutchin­son (R‑TX) a mere hour before the sched­uled clo­ture vote for the treaty. The extreme­ly con­tro­ver­sial UN infor­ma­tion caused then-Sen­ate Major­i­ty Leader George Mitchell (D‑ME) to with­draw the treaty from con­sid­er­a­tion. It was nev­er vot­ed on.

The con­nec­tion between the Bio­di­ver­si­ty Treaty and the Wild­lands Project was not a coin­ci­dence. The treaty was orig­i­nal­ly writ­ten by the IUCN in 1982, about the time it was pro­mot­ing a new sci­ence called con­ser­va­tion biol­o­gy, which, in turn, pro­vid­ed the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the Bio­di­ver­si­ty Treaty. Two of the key pro­mot­ers of this unproven sci­ence were none oth­er than Reed Noss and Michael Soulé who, along with Dave Fore­man, co-authored the Wild­lands Project. Although few Amer­i­cans have even heard of the IUCN, this orga­ni­za­tion has its fin­ger­prints on just about every alleged envi­ron­men­tal prob­lem in Amer­i­ca today. Read the Inter­na­tion­al Dom­i­na­tion of US Envi­ron­men­tal Law and Pri­vate Prop­er­ty for more infor­ma­tion on this connection.


1Reed Noss. “The Wild­lands Project, Land Con­ser­va­tion Strat­e­gy.” Wild Earth, Spe­cial Issue, 1992, pp. 10–25.
2Ibid, p. 15.
3Dave Fore­man, et. al. “The Wild­lands Project, Land Con­ser­va­tion Strat­e­gy.” Wild Earth, Spe­cial Issue, 1992, pp. 3.
4John Davis. “The Wild­lands Project, Land Con­ser­va­tion Strat­e­gy.” Wild Earth, Spe­cial Issue, 1992, pp.9.
5Michael Soulé. “The Wild­lands Project, Land Con­ser­va­tion Strat­e­gy.” Wild Earth, Spe­cial Issue, 1992, pp.9.
6Documents ‘Track I’ (A/51/829) of March 17th, 1997, and ‘Track II’ (A/51/950) of July 14th, 1997.