|WASHINGTON (AP) -- Among the hottest farm issues of the past few
years has been the impact of government regulations on private property. A new study
indicates the often heated rhetoric may not reflect most landowners' views.
American Farmland Trust, a nonprofit land conservation advocacy group, found in the recent
broad-based survey of farmers, ranchers and landowners that 71 percent reported no loss of
value traced to government regulations such as zoning, erosion control or wetlands
protection. In addition, two-thirds said they are willing to shoulder some costs of
environmental protection as long as they are shared with the general public.
The survey comes as Congress considers nine bills, most introduced by Republicans, that
are intended to require government compensation if regulations result in a ``taking'' that
reduces value or restricts value of private property. Twenty-four state legislatures have
recently passed similar private property rights laws.
Trust President Ralph Grossi, whose family runs a cattle ranch near San Francisco, said
the poll shows most landowners favor commonsense approaches to protecting the environment
and don't want government to be forced to choose between regulation and paying landowners.
``A combination of reasonable regulation and compensatory financial incentives to
landowners is the best way to save farmland and encourage good environmental
stewardship,'' Grossi said. `Often, this debate seems ill-informed.''
The telephone survey of 1,729 farmers, ranchers and others owning at least five acres
in 42 states was conducted in June-November 1997 by J. Dixon Esseks, professor of public
administration at Northern Illinois University. It has a margin of error of plus or minus
3 percentage points.
Most of those surveyed own more than 25 acres, and three-quarters raise crops. Eighty
percent of respondents live on the farm, and a third earn more than $50,000 in annual
gross farm income.
``It is clear that agricultural landowners do not fit the stereotypes ascribed to
them,'' American Farmland Trust vice president Edward Thompson said in the report. ``Most
are neither poor, unfortunate victims of environmental regulation run amok, nor are they
greedy libertarians who don't care if they plunder the planet.''
Some of the survey's major findings:
--More than two-thirds say they suffered no loss of property value from government
regulations. Only 8.3 percent reported a large loss. On a regional basis, westerners were
more than twice as likely to report large losses.
--Fifty-eight percent said they favored mandatory regulations rather than voluntary
incentives to protect farms from residential development. The rest either had no opinion,
favored incentives or wanted no policy at all.
--Landowners were split between regulations to protect wetlands, with 45 percent
favoring voluntary incentives and almost 40 percent supporting regulations. But to protect
endangered species, four times as many landowners favored public or private incentives as
-- Between 70 percent and 95 percent, depending on the issue, favor some government
role in conservation of natural resources instead of leaving it to the free market.
--Sixty percent said the public and private landowners should share the costs of
regulation, and a third favored public compensation entirely. Yet only 3 percent said
private landowners should bear the burden alone.
The trust's report recommends that Congress and state lawmakers work toward policies
that share responsibility for protecting the environment and slowing urban sprawl. In
addition, more money should be made available for incentive programs that encourage
landowners to take conservation steps on their own.