Questions About Land Exchanges


1. What is your stance on land trades in the state of Washington?

The recent checkerboard land exchanges arise from an underlying problem: the 19th century railroad land grant policy of the federal government. More than 100 million acres of public lands was given to railroad corporations on the condition that they sell the land to the public and use the money to build the transportation and communication infrastructure of the nation. In its infinite largesse, Congress gave out too much land, and then allowed the railroads to sell millions of acres not to the public but to timber, mining, and real estate corporations (including Weyerhaeuser). Millions of acres more were retained by the railroads themselves, later to be spun off into new corporations (such as Plum Creek Timber). There is more information on the history of the land grant policies at the Railroads & Clearcuts website. The failure of American public lands policies will not be solved by land exchanges which target a few acres here and there. The I-90 exchange, the largest in many decades, involves less than 50,000 acres of the three million acres controlled by Plum Creek.


2. Shouldn't the Forest Service be buying lands with money from appropriated funds rather than trading old growth forest for logged land?

The public land grant policy will not be resolved by taxpayer buyouts, either. There is too much land involved, and the price is too high, since the government and the corporations use the modern price rather than the price the land grant corporations were supposed to receive. No more than a tiny percentage of lands will ever be purchased at today's prices. That is the "practical" side. The ethical side is that the government should not be buying back land which was stolen from the public in the first place. Land exchanges are buyouts are not the only alternatives. Millions of acres of the land grants have been returned to the public domain because the corporations failed to fulfill the land grant laws. Most of those lands were simply returned to the federal domain. Occasionally the corporations were compensated at the original price set by Congress -- usually $2.50 per acre. click here more information on the recovery of public lands


3. Is the goal of creating a buffer zone around the corridor a feasible plan since I-90 interjects through it? How do you see wildlife migration patterns being affected?

In spite of the rhetoric of the prominent civic leaders who front the Mountains-to-Sound Greenway, the goal is scenic, not ecological. The Greenway is only slightly more sophisticated than the old "beauty strip" scheme of leaving a line of trees along a road so that motorists cannot see the clearcuts. Wildlife needs a north-south bridge across the I-90 highway and the development that has occured alongside the highway. Making the east-west corridor wider or greener will not help wildlife migrate across the corridor. And even a north-south bridge assumes there is enough wild habitat, which there is not. The greatest enemy of large wildlife such as wolves and grizzlies is guns. The greatest enemy of small wildlife is loss of habitat.


4. It seems like Plum Creek originally put a lot of pressure on the Forest Service to trade lands before groups like the Western Land Exchange Project got involved. Do you see their actions as being selfish in trying to obtain as much land as possible before the public has a chance to act?


Plum Creek Timber is a for-profit limited liability corporation which exists to maximize profit and political power. The Sierra Club was involved in the deal from the beginning, but the Sierra Club is a not-for-profit corporation which exists to maximize budget and political power. The public was not involved from the beginning for the same reason the public has never created a resolution to its public lands dilemma: most people are apathetic and focussed on other things. The public's lack of participation creates a vacuum which is immediately filled by power-seeking corporations, which then help to perpetuate a (learned) culture of distraction and helplessness.

Plum Creek's actions are not selfish because Plum Creek is not a person; it is a power base relying on the the public's failure to implement the railroad land grants. The Sierra Club's actions are not selfish, because it is not a person; it is a power base relying upon creating "solutions" to "problems" which can be fixed. Plum Creek and the Sierra Club are both corporate machines with fairly predictable mechanisms. Corporations seek money and power as long as they are the same thing. They give up short-term positions and profits when their underlying power is threatened.


5. In what direction do you see this issue heading? Is there a fair compromise in which everyone can benefit from the land exchange?

As long as the public is apathetic, as long as the few who are active are willing to cut deals which buy into the underlying problem and into the corporate agenda, then there is no solution, and whatever public benefits occur will be incidental to the protection of the power structure. Future land exchanges will arise, will be touted as solutions, and will be negotiated by those powerful enough to hold a seat at the table. But in the end, land exchanges do not eliminate land management problems -- they simply shift the damage to places and people of lesser power.


"Compromise" and "consensus" are ideals which rarely work in practice, because they depend upon the negotiating parties having more or less equal power, which is rarely the case. "Consensus" deal-making generally perpetuates the power structure while providing the illusion of participation -- which is why it is favored by those with power (Plum Creek, Forest Service, Gorton, Murray, Sierra Club, media corporations). Strategic application of power (such as the shift of attention to Watch Mountain) sometimes creates the ability to change what was portrayed as inevitable consensus. Additional benefits occur to the degree participants are willing to disrupt the power structure. This often results in SLAPP lawsuits and other reactions to the disruption of power relations.

Visit the Railroads & Clearcuts website for for more information on the railroad land grants and the corporations based upon the public lands commonwealth

There is more information on corporate power at Endgame's Primer on Corporations.