FARMERS FIGHT 50,000 ACRE FEDERAL LAND GRAB : LUSENET : TB2K spinoff uncensored : One Thread


12 year old testifies before Senate; tries to save her family's home

By Matthew Mittan, The Asheville Tribune


The United States Fish and Wildlife Service has announced it's desire to create a fifty-three thousand acre wildlife refuge, much to the chagrin of local residents. Federal officials have targeted, for their refuge, some of the best farmland in the United States, land that has been farmed by some of the same families for two hundred years.

Residents opposed to the federal land designation say that the proposed refuge would dispossess hundreds of families and transform a productive agricultural economy into a non-productive service economy.

The people of Madison and Union counties in Ohio are overwhelmingly opposed to the proposal. But that has not slowed the federal agencies from pursuing the land.

Due to that fact, two local grassroots groups, Stewards of the Darby (SOD) and Citizens Against Refuge Proposal (CARP) are at the forefront of the land rights battle. Through these groups, local residents drafted a Declaration entitled "Our Land Is Our Responsibility" which reads in part, "We, the residents of the area publicized as the "Darby Prairie National Wildlife Refuge Study Area" want our voices heard! We, who live and work in this farming community, believe the impact to area businesses would jeopardize their very existence. The Madison County Auditor's Office projects the affected region generates $300 per acre, which turns over 6-7 times (in buying power) before leaving the community. This translates into a potential deficit of $90 million dollars to our area businesses.

"[Additionally,] United States Representative Ralph S. Regula asserts: 'It is simply irresponsible to take on new land responsibilities, and give grants to cities, States and private institutions, when we cannot afford to adequately take care of our primary Federal responsibilities - the public lands.'

"The State Forest Department manages and protects 7.1 million acres of forest land in Ohio, for the benefit of all Ohio citizens. One hundred eighty one thousand acres of State-owned forest land are available for multiple benefits, including wildlife, recreation, timber products, and soil and water protection. In addition, there are 72 State Parks in Ohio where the public can interact with nature at its leisure. With this great abundance of parks and wildlife areas, all supported by our tax dollars, is there really a need for more public land?

"Actual area land auctions show that a 500-acre farm is worth $1.5 million dollars. To this initial cost, add a reasonably priced home at a cost of $85,000, and minimal equipment at approximately $641,000, and the combined start-up cost totals $2.226 MILLION DOLLARS. After committing to an investment of such magnitude, why would our astute, agriculturally- and family-minded farmers want to sell?

"In the case of the proposed Darby Prairie National Wildlife Refuge, most of the 53,692 acres is land that has been acquired by our farmers over many generations. This "ownership endurance" enables us to continue our conservation-accredited farming skills, thus growing with our investments. At an average of 4.5 persons per home, this equates to the possible residential displacement of over 7,500 people from the Study Area alone, with a loss of approximately 4,000 taxpayers to the community. We have a proven track record of providing Americans with a diversity of products in the global marketplace, with a combination of wheat, corn, and soybeans; there would be a loss of over 3 million bushels of grain from the Study Area!

"With well over 50,000 acres lost to food production, how many non-farmers would be willing to relinquish their combined homes and yards to replace the fertile soil that presently feeds so many, that would be permanently lost by the introduction of a National Wildlife Refuge? At some point, we will no longer have the abundance of high-quality, reasonably priced food that we now take for granted at our supermarkets.

"The growing of food to nourish our citizens is certainly as much a consideration as re-establishing a tall grass prairie. Eating is not going to go out of style, and we are not willingly going to yield our bountiful land to either developers or Federal Agencies who say they are 'protecting us' from development.

"Those of us who have been entrusted with the privilege of caring for the land, know well the proper care and nurturing required to maintain, protect and preserve our farmlands, and sustain a well-established wildlife habitat through conservation management. With an eye to the future, and the experience of almost two hundred years, we know that Our Land Is Our Responsibility!"

In response to the public outcry, two bills have been introduced in the Ohio Legislature, HCR 44 (Rep Jim Buchy) and SCR 28 (Sen. Merle Grace Kearns). Both bills seek to block the federal effort. "We are trying to send a message to the federal government that we do not want this in our state," said Julie Smithson, a career truck driver who has been closely involved with the debate.

Advocates for the protection of private property in Ohio hope that their struggle for the control of their land is not lost on the ears of citizens in other areas across the nation. "We hope that other States can take up the issue and join the bandwagon."

This fight has involved more than just the adults in the area. Sheena Pennell, a 12 year old student, recently won an international essay contest, sponsored by Walt Disney and McDonalds, for her writings on the Darby Refuge controversy. Sheena believes that the local residents are doing just fine taking care of the land and that the Fish and Wildlife Department doesn't need to be telling farmers how best to manage their properties. Sheena's mother Marlyne spoke to the Tribune while Sheena was at school Tuesday. She stated that Sheena has always been an independent thinker and that her daughter became very interested in the Darby dispute, researching numerous documents and asking to attend several local town hall type meetings. "She's been a 4-H'er since she was 5 years old, you learn to respect the land."

During the course of her inquiries, Sheena learned of numerous facts that caused her skepticism of the FWA initiative. "Several farmers in the area have received awards from the Fish and Wildlife Service for outstanding environmental standards," Mrs. Pennell stated. That didn't seem to gel with the position that the FWA was coming in to "protect the land", Pennell asserted.

The Pennell family home is located on five acres that they have owned for nearly a decade. They say they chose the area to raise their family because of its small town, friendly appeal. They enjoy the traditional farming community life. However, that could soon change due to the fact that their land is within the proposed Wildlife Refuge area.

That situation, and young Sheena's essay, landed the family a seat in front of a Senate Committee looking into the Darby conflict last week. "She was a little nervous at first, but I think she feels like she's helping to make a difference," her mother told the Tribune. "She got to see [Senators] hearing her opinions."

A second round of State Senate hearings has been scheduled for mid-March.

On the Federal level, written testimony was presented to the U.S. House Resources Committee recently. The testimony read as follows: "Our area is under threat of being declared a National Wildlife Refuge by the actions of corrupt officials of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, acting in collusion with The Nature Conservancy, which is attempting to impose one of its restrictive 'Bioreserve' projects on our farming community.

"The Columbus Foundation and Affiliated Organizations, a consortium of urban foundations unconcerned about rural economies and the property rights of farmers, gave The Nature Conservancy a grant of $25,000 in 1996 'For Darby Bioreserve Project, including hiring RiverKeeper to promote citizen-based protection of Big and Little Darby Creeks.'

"Despite massive opposition to the Project by our local citizens, the USFWS continues to act under the influence of The Nature Conservancy and their funders, the Columbus Foundation consortium, to cripple our farm community.

"We request that Congress fully investigate this foundation-funded attempt to destroy the economy of our local farm community."

The House Resources Committee is Chaired by Rep. Don Young (R, Alaska). No action had been taken on the Darby Wildlife Refuge designation as of press time.

For more information contact: Stewards of the Darby at 740-857-1239 or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at 202-208-5403. The U.S. House Resources Committee can be reached by calling 202-225-2761.

-- (, March 03, 2000



-- (, March 03, 2000.

I don't know if this type of news post will be welcome here or not, but I'm really concerned about the current land grab. Of all the garbage that's going on, this is one issue that will have a large impact on our kids and grandkids if we don't stop this nonsense right now.

-- (, March 03, 2000.

My understanding is that all are welcome here. It was great to see your post. It brings a sense of normalcy.


-- Jimmy Splinters (, March 03, 2000.

Personally, I'm a lot more worried about the land being gobbled up everyday by hundreds of new strip malls, thousands more highway projects, thousands of new suburbs and sprawl from cities, and dozens of new prisons taking up land all across the U.S.

Just remember that we are crowding wildlife out of it's own habitat. When we lose enough wildlife, we put ourselves at risk as well. Hundreds of farms are taken over every day for the projects I named above. We have a case in our state right now of several farms being in jeopardy for the expansion of the state prison. The evergrowing prison population has to go somewhere, just as landfills, and highways, but no one wants it to take their property, or be even near their property. And I'd feel the same way.

We live in a rural area that is being gobbled up by gated communities and fancy resorts and leisure retreats, and I too feel the crunch coming. But we wouldn't feel so bad if it went for a wildlife refuge. I'm glad to see environmentalists, and hunters joinging forces to protect the wildlife habitat. But farms are important too. It's a three pipe problem as Sherlock would say.

-- gilda (, March 04, 2000.

Our Federal Government has been out of control for a long time.

This is an issue for only the state of Ohio to decide.

-- Dana (, March 04, 2000.

I'm in full agreement with Gilda when she says, "Personally, I'm a lot more worried about the land being gobbled up everyday by [private development and other agency projects] taking up land all across the U.S."

While fully aware that common lands are a dangerous policy when it comes to fair and equitable resource use. ( See Garrett Hardin's "Tragedy of the Commons" ), I do have reservations about decimating one's private holdings to the detriment of one's community---clear-cut logging and strip-mining come to mind. And private use of public lands, as if they were one's own, are a thorny issue with me.

Small stakeholders, especially family-scale enterprises, are usually respectful and caring of their land, and cognizant of their stewardship responsibilities. Far moreso than industial resource-development entities. Unfortunately, they are easier for government agencies to kick around. Thus the irony of this outrage of eminent domain, while corporate rapists clearcut the last remaining old-growth and blow the tops off pristine hilltops in their quest for coal.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but when was there ever any prairie in Ohio? My understanding is that whole area was covered in deciduous forest in Pre-Columbian times. And from there was converted to farmland, which it remains to this day.


"Do not misunderstand me, but understand me fully with reference to the land. I never said the land was mine to do with as I chose. The one who has the right to dispose of it is the one who created it. I claim a right to live on the land and accord you the same privilege." Heinmot Tooyalket (Chief Joseph) of the Nez Perce

-- (, March 05, 2000.

So good to hear from you again Hallyx. And yes, it does seem that its the small land holders that are kicked around. You don't see anyone kicking Cargill off mega hog farms or Murphy Farms being told they have to sell out. Power does corrupt absolutely.

-- gilda (, March 06, 2000.

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