Sunday, July 08, 2007

A Tree in a Yard

The Crocodile Cage tells a short story ending in a good question about property rights in Wisconsin. I suspect the nanny state nitpicking has only just begun.

Whose Tree is it Anyway? Over the past holiday week, I visited a friend who is adding an addition to his home. My friend has a $600,000+ home on a lake in northern Wisconsin. He is adding a sunroom. The County made a big deal about a flowering crab apple tree that was located in the area of his expansion. … I know it is naive to ask, but whose tree is it anyway? When did we give up all semblance of property rights? When did trees turn into public property?

Personally, I believe the problem has roots back to a decision over eighty years ago when the Supreme Court of the United States decides that a property owner has no right to keep officers of the government off private land. Warrants? We don’t need no stinking warrants.

FindLaw : ''Open Fields.''--In Hester v. US, 265 U.S. 57 (1924) the Court held that the Fourth Amendment did not protect ''open fields'' and that, therefore, police searches in such areas as pastures, wooded areas, open water, and vacant lots need not comply with the requirements of warrants and probable cause.

In a fundamental way, this decision changes the idea that the land constituting the country is privately held by citizens who form a government to protect individual rights, oversee commerce and adjudicate disputes --- into a concept where government has superior interests in the land that out weigh those of the property owners.

In time, the superior rights of the government expand and give rise to dictates about where you can mow a lawn or build a storage shed. As the reasonable desire to have some lands held in public ownership increasingly morphs into an imperative for government to manage nature, their assertion of superior rights will increasingly claim authority over every living thing. Have any Ash Trees or Black Locusts you think you own?