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Be careful what you ask for

Be careful what you ask for

A bill has been introduced in the Missouri General Assembly under the guise of helping people who protect state parks. It would prohibit a lawful land use by adjacent neighbors. Essentially, they are attempting to have the government eliminate other peoples’ rights for a benefit that they perceive as more worthy.

Now, let me translate. There is a proposal to build a reasonably sized hog operation on private property, consistent with Missouri law, two miles from the Village of Arrow Rock. Arrow Rock is a state historic site (not a state park) that has a campground and an historic community. It also has a theater, the major patrons and sponsors of which reside in Columbia. These patrons and sponsors have considerable access to the media. They want to prohibit a farmer who, based on media reports, has no history of crimes or environmental violations, from building a larger farm operation on his land. Their “legal” basis is that pigs stink. They assume the operation will “stink up” Arrow Rock.

A similar discussion is occurring in the southwest part of the state, where a farmer owns his land and also, based on media reports, has no history of crimes or environmental violations. He wishes to place chicken houses near Roaring River State Park.

Make no mistake about it: Neither of these operations is large by industry standards. They are not small, but neither are they of the size or character of the state’s larger operators, which are always used as poster children for any farming operations.

These are family farmers. They want to stay on their land. They want to keep their children in an enterprise where they can stay near them. They want to make some money. I guess those are now evil desires in America.
In the Arrow Rock situation, you would think that a proposal has been rendered for 32 billion hogs. Should the advocates for greater distances and protections for state parks prevail, they would not be the first.

Several states have greater protections for public lands in their CAFO operation standards. Kansas is an example, as it provides for greater protections around its wildlife areas from larger animal operations. The largest Kansas operations could not locate within 16,000 feet (about 7 miles) of a state wildlife area. The Missouri proposal would limit all operations within 26,400 feet (15 miles) of a state park, state historical site or property listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
As much as I love and support state parks, a proposition such as this gives me great pause.

It is already difficult to acquire additional lands around state parks. The cost of ground aside, landowners are becoming increasingly wary of the risk they might face and restrictions which may be placed upon their property if they are near such a facility. Rather than being embraced for the good fortune to be next to such a facility, the opposite is increasingly true. After all, in the case of the Arrow Rock example, there is not even adjacency. The current proposal is well over two miles from the state historic site boundary.

In addition, the number of sites on the National Register of Historic Places is almost 2,000. This is a far cry from a simple bill to protect 81 state parks. Again, why make it more difficult to support designations that protect locations from the wrecking ball?

I have always been most fond of former Department of Natural Resources Director G. Tracy Mehan’s famous parks statement: “If you want to protect it, do it the old fashioned way; buy it.” Proposals to restrict activities out of state park boundaries and limit legal activities will only have one effect: limiting the growth of the state park system and reducing the protection of important unique resources from the public domain.

The law of unintended consequences from activities with the best of intentions is applicable here. Park protection advocates should be careful what they wish for; the consequences may have an impact they are not anticipating.

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