Planning For Use Of Natural Resources

Planning for the Use of Land and Natural Resources

Public interest in land is as old as the first American colonists. When the settlers landed on the shores of the New World their chief concern was to parcel out the land in an equitable fashion. In some cases land was awarded on the basis of the amount each colonist had contributed to the enterprise. Regardless of the method, the land policy of the colonies and later of the United States was to place land at the disposal of individuals. The Homestead Act of 1862 merely confirmed this policy. Any citizen could receive from the government a plot of 160 acres to which he secured title either by paying $1.25 an acre at the end of six months or by continued residence thereon for five years and the paying of small administrative expenses. The near exhaustion of public lands put an end to public disposal of land in 1891. The underlying assumptions of this policy were those of the 19th cen­tury classical economists: individualism, private property, laissez-faire.

During the first decade of the 20th century, largely under the direction of Theodore Roosevelt, the federal government turned its attention to the conservation of non-agricultural, lands. One hundred sixty million acres of public lands were set aside for forests and game preserves and for scenic, scientific, and historical purposes. Although the authority was rather ineffectively exer­cised, the federal government was also granted power to acquire lands to protect the head waters of navigable streams and to engage in timber production.

Foundations for more comprehensive planning of natural re­sources were laid in 1931 when the Secretary of Agriculture under President Hoover called a National Conference on Land Utilization. In addition to recommending several items of policy for land use, the conference also recommended the creation of a National Land Use Planning Committee. After two years of operation this Committee was superseded by the National Plan­ning Board of the Public Works Administration, which in turn became the National Resources Board and then the National Resources Committee headed by one of the President's executive assistants. The National Resources Committee has no authority in itself; it collects data, and suggests programs to the President who then submits certain of these recommendations to Congress for enactment. In general the conservation program of the fed­eral government has numerous phases. We shall survey two of these phases—the Soil Conservation Program and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

The depressed condition of agriculture throughout the United States began in the days immediately following World War I. Overexpansion of farms to meet the tremendous wartime de­mand brought temporary prosperity to American farmers. But when European countries returned to normal peacetime produc­tion and the various governments were no longer responsible for feeding huge armies, the boom market collapsed. Farmers were left with burdensome debts, with abundant harvests and no mar­kets. Prices of farm commodities declined steadily from year to year, checked occasionally by artificial price pegging policies in­stigated by the government. Little of a permanent nature was done until the Agricultural Adjustment Act was passed in Presi­dent Roosevelt's first term. The Act inaugurated a program of crop production control based upon contracts between the gov­ernment and individual farmers. The contracts required the farmer to limit production in return for compensating payments from the government. In the case of cotton, for example, a national quota was set; allotments were then made to each state, and these in turn served as the basis of quotas for individual farmers. Each crop was controlled by a variation of this general principle applicable to the peculiar circumstances of each crop.

To secure the money with which to pay these subsidies to farmers, the government levied "processing taxes." These taxes were paid by those industries which "processed" or prepared the farm product for the market, such as cotton and flour mills, tobacco factories, and packing houses. However, the processor was expected to "pass on" the tax to the ultimate consumer.

After nearly three years of operation and some very obvious gains to agriculture, the Agricultural Adjustment Act was de­clared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court. The advantages of such regulation not only to agriculture but to the economic community as a whole were so great that the prin­cipal features of the AAA were incorporated into another act. In the Soil Conservation Act of 1935 Congress opened up a new approach to this program. This Act declared it to be "the policy of Congress to provide permanently for the control and preven­tion of soil erosion and thereby to preserve natural, resources, control floods, prevent impairment of reservoirs, maintain the navigation of rivers and harbors, protect public health and public lands, and to relieve unemployment." In order to secure the co­operation of farmers in soil conservation they were a year later subsidized for shifting their acreage from crops in which there is an oversupply into a soil-building crop such as alfalfa and clover.

According to Henry A. Wallace, at that time Secretary of Agri­culture, the soil conservation program alone did not provide sufficient control over agriculture to eliminate the tremendous surpluses that were building up year after year. In 1938 a revived AAA program was introduced in which the states shared with the federal government the work of stabilizing agriculture. Limitation of acreage, and quotas set upon the sale of produce featured the program. It was financed out of general taxation.

The keystone of the New Deal power arch is the Tennessee Valley Authority. Becoming owner of over 2000 acres on the Tennessee River at Muscle Shoals used primarily as a site for nitrate manufacture during World War I, the government was at a loss to know how to use the property when the war was over. No solution to the controversy which raged over this issue was found until 1933 when Congress passed the Tennessee Valley Authority Act. This legislation was designed to improve the navigability and control floods on the Tennessee River to provide for reforestation, reclamation, and profitable use of the land in the Valley, and to operate the nitrate plants in the interest of national defense. The program was financed by a $50,000,000 appropriation from Congress and the sale of bonds up to a similar amount to the general public. The generation of electric power as incidental to building the dams for flood control has been one of the most significant phases of the program. Power thus developed is sold to public and private organizations at rates which presumably act as a yardstick for the production and sale of electric power by privately owned public utilities. Taken all to­gether the T.V.A. program represents the most spectacular effort in America to plan the economic and social relationships of 2,000,000 Americans and 40,000 square miles of land.

A great variety of minor programs have been established in recent years to plan the use and conservation of natural resources and the stabilization of agriculture. There is the Farm Security Administration which is responsible for taking out of use about 10,000,000 acres of marginal land, and for resettling the owners or tenants of such land on good land. It also is responsible for assisting farm tenants to become owners and alleviating the dis­tress of those caught by natural or economic catastrophes. Then there is the Civilian Conservation Corps which consists of young men between the ages of 18 and 25 whose parents are unem­ployed or otherwise in need of public assistance. Designed partly as a means of combating unemployment among young men, the program contributed largely to the conservation and beautifica-tion of public and private farm and forest land.

The Soviet Union has worked out planned control of Russian agriculture and natural resources. The socialistic ideal, expressed in the Communist Manifesto of 1848, is complete ownership by the State of all land and natural resources. The road of the Rus­sian leaders has not been easy in this respect. Farming has been for centuries Russia's chief industry. It was also the stronghold of individualism. The chief aim of every peasant in the days of the Czar was to acquire a small strip of land for himself. Con­sequently when Lenin first attempted collectivization of farm land during the period of war communism, he met with strong opposition in the form of destruction of herds and seed grain. He was forced to accept a partial return to private ownership and private enterprise. Under his new Economic Policy, the kulak (private farmer) thrived and grew wealthy. Several years later under the Five Year Plan, Stalin attempted to collectivize the farms. Again sabotage and non-cooperation greeted his efforts, but the farms were collectivized. Conflicting reports made it dif­ficult to describe accurately the success or failure of the general principle of State ownership and management of mass produc­tion farms. The kulak has been eliminated and private hoarding condemned. Agriculture, mining, and other industries concerned primarily with the production of raw materials are now assigned quotas under the successive Five Year Plans just as industry has been.