The View from Rural Route #8
If Will Rogers were alive today to repeat that all he knew was what he read in the papers, he’d be about as half as smart or less than he was when he said it 80-some years ago.
That’s because the papers have shrunk in several ways, and generally that includes story length and depth, which means rich details that matter are often not even considered for inclusion and thus, consumption.
The recent blow-in to the region by U.S. Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar to announce the federal takeover of the leasing of Flint Hills acreage in the staggering land mass of 1.1 million acres, was a fine example.
The news stories said the acreages involved were to be targeted, but they didn’t say which. The news stories said there would be tax breaks to participating landowners, but they didn’t say what sort of tax breaks. Seeing as how much of the Flint Hills is owned by wealthy families who live in mansions and plush apartments you cannot see from the tallest Flint Hill, it makes one wonder about added tax breaks.
One set of photos of Salazar at the meeting of big shots didn’t even bother to identify the fellow sitting beside him as the two gazed upward at beautiful slides of the Flint Hills. The man next to Salazar was Kansas Governor-elect Sam Brownback, who served with Salazar some in the U.S. Senate, in which Salazar was representing Colorado, a state in which he incidentally, had lots of experience in overseeing the assembling of various land conservation and environmental trusts.
The articles also said that the effort to sign the acreage to long term leases for preserving the Flint Hills would involve the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the federal wildlife agency, which had begun to promote this project earlier but disappeared from the issue in public for months. Reading and looking between the lines, the initial federal attempt seemed to completely ignore two already established efforts to retire land for ecology and cattle grazing. The latest deal recognized the other efforts, which seemed to imply that they had been superseded and to say, “thank you very much, but I am bigger than you. Might want to get out of the way, or work for us.”
So, this is a hoot in a sad way. Has anyone actually suggested how much land 1.1 million acres is? I will. It exceeds by a little the total acreage of two average Kansas counties, or just under two percent of the state’s entire land mass. If the land is taken from the heart of the Flint Hills and is contiguous (there are already some 60,000 acres now in conservation trusts done in part to preserve cattle grazing), then it will pretty much dominate land use patterns in just a handful of Flint Hills counties.
To put it bluntly, that land will not be developed. The tax bases will not grow. I’m wondering if the leased grass will be allowed to be taxed by the counties as grassland as it is now. I know it sounds stupid to wonder, but I wouldn’t assume anything in today’s world. So, what really is the deal here, and is this really a new “end around” strategy by the federal government to put together enough land to decree a new National Park? The old time ranching families had to fight that off several times. That is a fact that validates the old question about a park.
Jim Suber is an award-winning farm, ranch, and rural life columnist residing on Rural Route No. 8, Topeka.
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