Defending Kansans’ property rights

(Journal stock photo.)

Private property rights are a requirement for a strong America. Without the right to manage our own land, we are subject to the impulse of any government bureaucrat. The founding fathers knew this perfectly well–it’s why they enshrined property rights within the 5th Amendment. Many countries around the world today still lack strong property rights—a key reason why the U.S. Constitution makes us exceptional as a nation.

But this bedrock of American society has been chipped away for years by proponents of big government. That’s because many on the left don’t trust you to have the final say on what happens on your property. They believe that “experts” inside an agency in Washington should get the final say on what happens on your land 1,000 miles away in Kansas.

Worryingly, under President Joe Biden the rolling back of private property rights has been kicked into high gear with initiatives like the 30 by 30, along with other actions taken by unelected federal agencies.

As a member of the Congressional Western Caucus, a group of nearly 80 members of Congress who advocate for policies to benefit rural America, I have strongly supported the right to own and manage our own property.

In September, Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-CA, unveiled the Commitment to America—four principles that serve as a promise to America that we will work from day one of a Republican majority to advance the priorities that matter most to them. Preserving and strengthening private property rights is key to one of these principles: A Future That’s Built on Freedom.

In this time of economic stress, landowners must be certain that their efforts to balance conservation practices with economic development and prosperity will not be undermined by federal overreach and bureaucratic interference.

When bureaucrats—who have never been on a Kansas farm—start talking about preservation and conservation, it’s obvious that their decisions will, at best, add burdensome regulations to land management practices and, at worst, could destroy our way of life through crushing mandates.

While the administration has since tried to market this effort as the America the Beautiful initiative, it still lacks transparency, and many of the core principles remain ambiguous. Kansans can offer an alternative example and show the rest of the country that private property owners are truly leading the way toward effective stewardship of our lands and waters. Ninety-seven percent of Kansas is privately owned, so collaboration, local input, and voluntary measures are how we advance important conservation goals in our state.

For example, my legislation, the Chisholm National Historic Trail and Western National Historic Trail Designation Act, would designate two cattle trails as National Historic Trails, providing national recognition of authentic cowboy culture while guaranteeing rights of private landowners are protected. I worked with cattlemen’s associations, energy groups, and other local stakeholders to ensure private property protections remained paramount, and I am proud that the bill recently passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee.

Another threat to private property and development is unaccountable federal agency actions. One in particular that impacts Kansas is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal to list the Lesser Prairie-Chicken under the Endangered Species Act. This proposal would limit Kansas’ oil and gas production and harm the economic benefit that this production brings to the state—while undermining the voluntary recovery and conservation actions that are already taking place by our state and local leaders. Kansas’ oil and natural gas industry supports over 100,000 jobs, over $3 billion in family income, and over $1.4 billion in state and local tax revenue.

I have led my colleagues in several efforts to urge the administration to recognize the importance of locally led species recovery efforts. Kansas landowners and the oil and gas industry have contributed extensive voluntary steps to protect the LPC, which has helped the LPC population increase by 50%, the FWS should work with local stakeholders and private property owners to advance the good work already being done.

A future that’s built on freedom requires strong and unalienable private property rights, and landowners have been proven effective in conserving land and wildlife habitats. I will fight for Kansans’ property rights and push back against federal attacks and land grabs that devalue this right.

Ron Estes is a fifth-generation Kansan, former state treasurer, and, as Republican representative of the 4th District, serves on the House Committee on Ways and Means and the Joint Economic Committee.