Volume 12, Issue 42 ~ October 14-20, 2004
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Keeping Maryland in Marylanders’ Hands

We still get razzed from out-of-state friends about Gov. Robert Ehrlich auctioning off the state yacht, Maryland Independence, on eBay earlier this year. (At least it was purchased by Marylanders.)

Ehrlich’s impulse for privatization has not gone that far. Yet. But his declaration recently that he’s contemplating selling off some of Maryland’s sensitive publicly owned land has us wondering about our Republican governor’s priorities. It’s land in St. Mary’s County in the news this month, but land in other areas, including Charles County, has been up for speculation, if not for sale.

To us, getting rid of public lands is similar to dumping grandma’s silver at a rummage sale. It’s an insult to our heritage, and we hope Marylanders tell the governor as much.

Even in lean times like now, Maryland ought to be on the lookout to buy more greenspace, unique terrain and sensitive lands that drain into Chesapeake Bay.

Then again, you may be in favor of more subdivisions with artificially green lawns and three-car garages.

By acquiring land, we not only protect the environment and the aesthetics of our state; we also enhance our own wealth and well-being. Even those of us who own only a tiny plot — or live in a high-rise or on a boat — are land-rich shareholders in thousands of priceless acres of Maryland. This land’s value not only enriches us today but endures as legacy wealth we pass onto our children and grandchildren.

It was a century ago when another Republican, Teddy Roosevelt, and the head of his Forest Service, Gifford Pinchot, started protecting swaths of America for parks and recreation. Land didn’t seem scarce back then, but they had the foresight to see ahead to our times and the wisdom to recognize precious resources that no time could duplicate. We have them to thank not just for the lands themselves but also for the conservation ethic that grew in leaders of both major political parties.

For reasons not entirely clear to us, late last century the idea that we need to begin divesting ourselves of public resources took root in some quarters. The idea spread with the so-called Wise Use movement in the West, where far more land is publicly held, reaching conservative circles in Congress — where Ehrlich held forth before becoming governor.

Now, drilling for oil and gas on public lands is being pushed by the Bush administration, and the federal government’s Bureau of Land Management is trying to sell off tracts of land to support itself.

But, Gov. Ehrlich, Maryland isn’t Alaska or Wyoming. There are many in our state — Republicans and Democrats alike — who agree with Teddy Roosevelt that conserve still belongs in the label conservative.

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