Question for the Libertarians about public lands

Please feel free to correct me, but I have heard it said that Libertarians primarily believe in individual rights, and that the right to hold property is the very most basic and should be the most unassailable. I have also heard it said that the government should never own land (except possibly that which is strictly necessary to house whatever offices and facilities are absolutely essential…whatever that may actually mean on the ground.) With that assumption (again, let me know if I’m mistaken,) I have a question about the ownership of public lands. This question could also be applied, I suppose, to state, county, and municipal lands, but I’ll confine my OP to Federal lands. I would, however, like to exclude the discussion of lands held by the military, as I believe it could potentially be a whole other can of worms.

Full disclosure: I am a scientist employed by the National Park Service, so I can certainly not be considered unbiased. However, I don’t believe this would make my opinions invalid.

Philosophically, and practically speaking, Libertarians:

[li]what do you think of publicly held lands such as national parks, preserves, historic sites, national forests, etc.?[/li][li]Do you think the government has the right to own these lands?[/li][li]Does it have the moral right to declare eminent domain on some of these lands to ensure that they are preserved for posterity, common cultural good, or the study of unique natural phenomena?[/li][li]What about to preserve critically endangered flora or fauna?[/li][/ul]

As you know, there are several types of parks in the National Park Service alone. There are national parks, national monuments, national preserves, national cemeteries, national battlefields and military parks, national trails, and others. This doesn’t even begin to describe lands held by the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, the USGS, etc. Do you think the existence of these agencies is warranted? If not, what would you replace them with, if anything?

My personal (biased) opinion: I think the Park Service, the USGS, and the Forest Service (with a few exceptions for the latter of the three) are some of the most worthwhile efforts ever undertaken by the US government. The knowledge gained from scientific and cultural efforts on these parks is absolutely indispensable. They have benefited the common good (in global as well as national terms) extremely profoundly. The USFS facility at Mt. St. Helens has revolutionized the world’s understanding of vulcanism and plate movement over the last 25 years. The preservation of largely intact habitats for eagle, bear, moose, elk, and wolves at Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons (where some ranchers were unceremoniously ejected), along with the cutting-edge work on vulcanism and fire ecology, to say nothing of the aesthetic value of the place, has made its existence justified a thousand times over, IMO. The All Taxa Biological Inventories, first begun at Great Smoky Mountains and now spreading to other places, has been a boon to the study of ecology like almost nothing else in history has.

Most of this, you must remember, is paid for by American taxes. The government is taking our money and doing some damn good science and preservation work with it. Among the military boondoggles and pork projects in our government, these places constitute the finest natural laboratories, preserved habitats, and cultural touchstones in the world.

I think it would be a crime to see, say, Yosemite’s El Capitan left to the whims of private ownership. I believe that all Americans have an investment in places like these, and all Americans (and to some extent, everyone in the world) have a right to see them protected by law.

Other opinions welcome.

i should also say, upon re-reading the OP, that these questions may also easily be directed at small-government conservatives as well.

As for myself, I’m torn. I’m a very slightly left-leaning Democrat, very liberal in social terms, but rather fiscally conservative…but I believe that national parks are exceptionally worthwhile national investments.

They’re fine.
In very limited cases.

I wouldn’t say they are “bad” per se, but I do think private partnerships and/or foundations could do as good a job, maybe better.
As you might guess, I’m not a strictly orthodox Libertarian. Lib will be along soon.

I do see your point, but I tend to think a centralized structure is actually more effective at getting the work done. The government tends to have a lot of money to throw at a problem…usually more than a private concern or foundation does.

The other thing that strikes me is that private foundations who sustain parks based on, say, visitor entrance fees would never be able to support the smaller parks, since the smaller, more obscure parks are visited much less often than the Yellowstones or Yosemites.

As a liberal-leaning libertarian, I have no personal problem with government ownership of lands. My libertarian beliefs are based on the idea that the government shouldn’t infringe on personal rights any more than is necessary to ensure that its citizens don’t infringe on each others’ rights. Land ownership doesn’t have anything to do with rights - if the government buys the land in a commercial way, I don’t have any problem with them owning it.

I do have problems with eminent domain, however. Except in some very limited circumstances, I don’t believe governments have the right to confiscate private property for public use. Those circumstances would be primarily when confiscation of the specific tract of land is necessary for the government to operate and/or to protect communal rights. Building a new shopping center or a road or a public park would not meet the criteria.

That’s sort of the whole problem isn’t it? Less park service = less taxation = more money freed up for private support of national parks.

And it needn’t be just financed through admisson fees; most museums are privately endowed (even if they also get support form the gov) and have membership systems. ISTM that’d be a good way of protecting areas from those prone to damage it.