Thursday, February 7, 2013

HB 1757: Wetland and Stream Replacement Fund

Virginia House Bill 1757 appears to be yet another attempt to spend money in the hope of proactively addressing a problem that would respond better to a negative, judgmental approach. It creates a "Wetland and Stream Replacement Fund."

What happened to enforcing existing laws against pollution? Verify that water is being polluted, and start slapping fines on the property owners until they sell the property to someone who wants to do something more wholesome with it. Why do we need to add a new, expensive Fund to that? I can understand why, all right. Take a real-world example of how it'd work, and you'll see why some people read HB 1757 as an "Agenda 21" scheme to destroy all that makes the United States what we are.

For example, yesterday I mentioned the phenomenon of bad neighbors who pasture cattle above a mountain spring and abandon the carcasses of illegally killed deer in the spring branch. I know who owns the cattle. I don't know that the same individual is to blame for the illegally killed deer. The family are privately working on it. We shouldn't have to work on it; we pay taxes in order to let trained, armed police officers work on it. They don't care. We do. What I know for sure is that the spring from which the Cat Sanctuary gets water has been polluted, and nobody from the Cat Sanctuary has been doing it.

Enforcing existing laws would be inconvenient. It would mean that the sheriff's deputies would have to get out of their cars and prowl around the mountain, stalking silent, stealthy, possibly violent poachers. The sheriff's deputies don't particularly enjoy doing this and, when called to investigate damage to a property owner's water line at 4 a.m., they seem about as sleepy and grumpy  as the offended property owner is. If there's no bleeding body to transport and no stolen diamonds to track down, why should they have to write a report, they grumble. Who blames them?

So we get what this web site's Tea Party contacts identify as Agenda 21, or whatever its proponents are currently calling the unhelpful alternative kind of suggestions. "Well, of course people who work during the day tend to fall asleep at night, and although that's what they are paid to do we understand that the sheriff's deputies don't enjoy chasing outlaws around the mountain at night either. Why should private citizens, especially old ladies, have to live on a beautiful mountain near a sparkling mountain spring. Let's 'plan' something more efficient. Let's throw some money at a conservation group, and perhaps they can persuade the old ladies to move into a retirement project in town somewhere, and 'preserve' that beautiful mountain for some wolves and bears, who will probably scare away the poachers."

On paper, to the "planners," these things sound very wise. Of course, in practice, people whose home is on a mountain don't thrive in retirement projects. Probably the "planners" think we're no loss. This is an overcrowded country and many people think the part of the population that most needs thinning is the old ladies. Well, naturally the position of this web site is that the part of the population that most needs thinning is the part that naturally tends to thin itself--the violent mental cases. However, if transferred to retirement projects against our wills, some old ladies may become violent mental cases; there's always that possibility.

And the legitimate hunters we know shoot squirrels and coyotes for fun, so to them the words "wolves and bears" mean "Bring the appropriate ammunition." Probably the poachers do too; I've seen that they strip the meat off deer carcasses they leave lying about, presumably in order to eat it, and committed carnivores say there's a lot of good eating on a bear.

There is an international drug trade in the United States. So far, gangsters aren't raising marijuana and manufacturing drugs on farms owned by private families. That's partly because it's so much easier for them to do those things on state property, which is less often patrolled by owners and managers.

Meanwhile, although a reasonable number of pure, wild nature preserves are sustainable and a delight to the public, there is a limit to the number of nature preserves the state can afford. Sooner or later, and I hope it's later than my lifetime, a bankrupt state will get a deal it can't refuse on those nature preserves. We've seen logging, and not very efficient, sustainable, or enlightened sorts of logging, in National Forests. We'll probably see strip mining in those "preserved" former farms.

If conserving Virginia's resources is the goal, I think our legislature might do better to work on ways to keep every possible acre of land in the hands of private owners, with particular attention to those whose ancestral ties to the land go back furthest...and keep land out of the hands of nonprofit organizations, which tend to be more short-lived and less dependable.

HB 1757 passed the House and is currently before a committee in the Senate. If one of the following State Senators is supposed to represent you, you may want to suggest that he (or she) be cautious about giving taxpayers' money to unprofitable, er, nonprofit organizations. The committee members are Senators "Hanger (Chairman), Watkins, Puckett, Ruff, Blevins, Obenshain, McEachin, Petersen, Northam, Stuart, Marsden, Stanley, Black, Miller, Ebbin." (Don't you love the way prints each name as a link you can use to e-mail your Senator?)