Preserving our history—and resources—in the heartland

(Journal stock photo.)

Kansas has a rich farming and ranching history—with agriculture remaining a top economic driver for our region. So when Washington bureaucrats—who have never been on a Kansas farm—start talking about preservation and conservation, we know that their actions can at best add burdensome regulations to common sense land management practices or at worst destroy our way of life through crushing mandates.

President Joe Biden recently signed the “30 by 30” executive order that commits the federal government to the goal of “conserving at least 30% of our lands and oceans by 2030.” While the order is not clear on specifics, it’s telling that team Biden has set yet another “environmental justice” goal more radical than anything we witnessed under President Barack Obama.

Kansas farmers and ranchers have been protecting our land for generations and certainly do much better than anyone could more than 1,200 miles away in Washington.

Instead of an outlandish goal like “30 by 30,” it should focus on maintaining our places of great cultural significance and honoring our midwestern trailblazers. I recently introduced a bill along with Sen. Jerry Moran, R-KS, that’ll do just that. H.R. 2512 will designate the Chisholm Trail and Western Trails as National Historic Trails to honor that history—while also forcing the government to protect our rights as landowners.

Farmers and ranchers from Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Nebraska have always been critical parts of this country’s national identity. The cowboy culture evident on the Chisholm and Western Trails is at the very heart of who we are as Americans—hard-working, rugged and independent. Designating these trails is more than just noting paths through the Great Plains but showcasing the historical significance of the people who traveled more than 1,300 miles through multiple states and the importance of their way of life.

The Chisholm Trail served as a major cattle trail after the Civil War, playing a critical role in shaping the midwestern economy. Throughout its history, it is estimated that cowboys drove more than five million cattle up the trail. The earliest account of Wichita begins with Jesse Chisholm and J.R. Mead establishing trading posts at the confluence of the Arkansas and Little Arkansas rivers where modern-day Wichita stands today. This trail was a critical part of Wichita’s economy; it improved trade, commerce, communication and transportation in Kansas and across America’s heartland.

The bill will honor Kansas’ authentic cowboy culture while ensuring that landowners are protected. It was important to me that this legislation has the strongest private property protections of any historic trail designated in the U.S.

Overall, this bill contains ironclad protections for private landowners that would prevent federal bureaucrats or any future administration from infringing on property rights. Provisions resulting from previous court cases to guarantee private property protections appear throughout the text. This legislation prohibits the federal government from acquiring any private lands and would require consent of the landowner to administer any portion of the trails on private land at all, and permission granted by landowners may be rescinded at any time. This bill also specifies that establishment of these trails does not prohibit, hinder, or disrupt the development, production, or transmission of energy.

The history of the Chisholm Trail and the Western Trail is a unique reminder of the unbridled spirit and boundless potential of the American West. Right now, we need the Chisholm and Western Trail’s reminder of who we are as Americans—undaunted individuals with vigor, tenacity and resolve.

Rep. Ron Estes, R-KS, one of only a handful of engineers in Congress, worked in the aerospace, energy and manufacturing sectors before representing Kansas’ 4th Congressional District since 2017. He is a fifth-generation Kansan, former state treasurer, and serves on the House Committee on Ways and Means and the Joint Economic Committee.