"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Monday, October 22, 2007

Perpetuity Smaller in Texas

It's commonly claimed that "Everything's bigger in Texas" (pronounced "everthang's baygoren Tixes"), but it seems that this does not apply to the time dimension. Ten thousand acres of wild land in the vicinity of Big Bend National Park, that was given in perpetuity to the people of Texas in 1991, is being sold to the highest bidder.

An edtorial in the Austin Statesman tells us that:
The donors oppose the planned sale, and a provision in the gift deed bars a sale “without the prior written consent” of the Conservation Fund. But Patterson has said the provision is unenforceable.

The deed, however, does welcome a transfer of the land to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department or the National Park Service for use as “a nature park, wildlife refuge, recreational area or similarly designated use area.”

The Texas parks agency, starved already for resources, passed on the offer, as did the federal park agency when the subject first came up about 15 years ago. But on Oct. 12, Superintendent William Wellman of Big Bend National Park asked Patterson to postpone the sale to give the National Park Service time to reconsider.
Of course this is another instance of the peculiar incompetence of Texans in governance. (For the most part we are much nicer people than you'd think at a distance. It's bizarre behavior like this that gives us a bad name.) And of course, especially fellow Texans should at the least pop over to Environment Texas and sign the petition to stop the sale.

This raises a couple of questions for me.

The passage that states that the state park service, "starved already for resources" declined the offer of a transfer of the deed to them is baffling. Sure, maintaining a park costs money. It would seem to me to be in the nature of, um, nature, that maintaining a wilderness does not.

When the Republic of Texas was born, I imagine the amount of money spent maintaining wilderness was pretty small, yet the wilderness presumably was doing fine at its task of sprawling vastly and maintaining a huge array of scruffy plants and nasty critters. Sure, there's a sort of economic opportunity cost in not developing land, but the idea that the state has to expend huge resources for land to just sit there and do whatever it does escapes me somehow.

I also don't see why the park service should be in a position to refuse to accept donated lands altogether. I'm new around here, though. A lot of things about Texas surprise me. Is it like this elsewhere?

Another thing, what does this do to the libertarian argument about land preservation - "If it means so much to you, make some money, buy some land, and donate it to nature". To do that, I have to trust whatever agency I donate the land to in perpetuity. Isn't it (in the libertarian view, not in mine) a violation of property rights for me to transfer a deed with certain restrictions and then have the restrictions violated?

Finally, if the state isn't the steward of perpetuity, who or what is? Are we so totally surrendered to the power of the marketplace that we have absolutely no mechanism for removing something from the tyranny of the discount rate?


William M. Connolley said...

From the libertarian point of view, you've just demonstrated what they know anyway: that govt is bad; not only does it fail to enforce the rule of law it violates it itself.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, the view from Austin, indeed a nice town...

once described to me by a Prof at UT, while sitting in a coffee bar there that could have as easily been in Palo Alto:

"Austin is not really in Texas, although we're surrounded by it."

More seriously, are there any Texas equivalents to:

http://www.openspacetrust.org/ (POST)

POST gets money from donors and uses it to buy land to give to to the second organization, which is tax-funded and worries about managing the preserve.

Maybe this works better on local level.

Dano said...

"everthang's baygoren Tixes"

Excellent job. I left after 11 long, agonizing months in Dallas. I likely would have lasted longer in Ostin.



Thomas Palm said...

What about instead writing a will that is so contradictory and ambigous that people will spend the rest of eternity fighting over it in the courts? Perhaps that is more of a libertarian solution for how to protect land forever? Just splitting it into 6.6 billion equal shares and donating a few square inches to every inhabitant on Earth should make it fairly impractical for anyone to gain control. Deeding the land to God might be fun too.