The standoff between Cliven Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management highlighted a little-known fact that is at the core of not only that dispute but others like it: The BLM manages one-eighth of America’s land — 247 million acres of the 2.3 billion acres that comprise the United States.
But that’s only the BLM. When including all federal agencies, the US government manages nearly one-third of all US land – around 648 million acres out of 2.3 billion acres. Management falls primarily under four agencies:
- Forest Service (USFS).
- National Park Service (NPS).
- Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
- Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).
The Bundy ranch standoff thrust the BLM into the spotlight as the story garnered international headlines, with US Senator Harry Reid (Nevada) referring to those protesting the actions of the armed BLM agents as “terrorists.”
In Reid’s own state, Nevada, the federal government manages a staggering 84 percent of land.
Byron Schlomach, director of the Center for Economic Prosperity at the Goldwater Institute, said the fact that the federal government own so much land and the fact that the land technically belongs to taxpayers can lead to much friction.
“The Bureau of Land Management is the federal government’s property manager,” he told Human Events. “As such, it asserts the federal government’s ownership rights. The BLM can do anything with federal land that any private landowner can do with his or her own land, including keeping other people off of that land. The problem is that the land the BLM owns is ‘everybody’s’ since it is ‘publicly owned.’
“This means we end up fighting over the best way to use the land and the losers in the hurly-burly of political infighting have lately been past winners, so they feel particularly wronged. The political process, which is very frustrating, sometimes corrupt, and which always produces exultant winners and embittered losers who feel their rights have been ignored or confiscated, does not necessarily lead to unity and good feelings.”
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Following are a list of Western states, accompanied by the percentage of land the federal government owns within the borders:
Nevada, 84.5 percent
Alaska, 69.1 percent
Utah, 57.4 percent
Oregon, 53.1 percent
Idaho, 50.2 percent
Arizona, 48.1 percent
Wyoming, 42.4 percent
New Mexico, 41.8 percent
Colorado, 36.6 percent
Schlomach said states must be allowed to manage more land.
“The bulk of so-called public property should be liquidated as soon as possible through sale by the government,” he said. “This is exactly what happened prior to the Progressive Era and before the western states were admitted to the union. If policies followed since 1910 had been followed beginning in 1790, over half of the United States would be federally owned.
States, he said, should “immediately be given the right to manage all lands within their borders” since they are “best able to make the local decisions necessary.”
“States should be given the right to sell the lands as they deem appropriate with the states getting a nominal share of the proceeds, probably no higher than 10 percent, and the rest going to the federal government,” he said. “Only in this way will the property currently owned by the federal government be put to its highest and best use.”
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