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Western States Fight To Take Back Federal Land

western legislators federal land

Image source: Salt Lake Tribune.

The battle over the Bundy family’s cattle has prompted a group of political leaders to organize a campaign to take control of Western lands away from the federal government.

US legislators, state legislators and county commissioners are among those joining the movement.

“We have to start managing these lands,” Montana State Senator Jennifer Fielder (R-Thompson Falls) said. “It’s the right thing to do for our people, for our environment, for our economy and for our freedoms.”

Fielder was speaking at a summit of around 50 political leaders held at the Utah state capitol April 18. The summit was prompted by the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) efforts to seize a herd of cattle owned by Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy. Bundy’s dispute with the BLM attracted crowds of protestors and national media attention.

“What’s happened in Nevada is really just a symptom of a much larger problem,” Becky Lockhart (R-Provo), the speaker of the Utah House of Representatives, told The Salt Lake Tribune.

Budget cuts, bad policies and questionable science motivated by politics are hamstringing federal management of lands in the West, Fielder charged. Forests and rangelands managed by the state of Idaho are in better shape than federally managed lands, the speaker of the Idaho House of Representatives, Scott Bedke (R-Oakley), claimed.

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“Those of us who live in the rural areas know how to take care of lands,” Fielder said.

Those at the summit presented no specific plans or strategies to take control of federal lands.

The highest-profile political figure at the event was US Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), who addressed the gathering.

Uncle Sam is the West’s Biggest Land Owner

The issue is a potentially huge one because the federal government is the biggest landowner in the Western US. The amount of land owned by Uncle Sam in the West is absolutely staggering.

The New York Times compiled a breakdown of the percentage of land in 12 Western States under federal control:

  • Nevada 84.5 percent
  • Alaska 69.1 percent
  • Utah 57.5 percent
  • Oregon 53.1 percent
  • Idaho 50.2 percent
  • Arizona 48.1 percent
  • California 45.3 percent
  • Wyoming 42.3 percent
  • New Mexico 41.8 percent
  • Colorado 36.6 percent
  • Washington State 30.3 percent
  • Montana 29.9 percent
  • Hawaii 19.4 percent

Most of that land is under the control of the BLM or the US Forest Service. Other federal entities that control large amounts of land include the military and the National Park Service.

Senate Majority Leader Calls Bundy Supporters ‘Domestic Terrorists’

It isn’t clear how much support the group gathered in Utah has but some national political figures have expressed similar sympathies. Former Congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul told Fox News’ Cavuto that he thinks Western lands should be under state control.

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Nor is the dispute over Western land a new battle. Salt Lake Tribune writer Thomas Burr noted that the complaints against the BLM were similar to those voiced in the Sagebrush Rebellion, a similar effort to assert more control of federal lands in the 1980s. That movement ultimately failed.

Efforts for states to regain control of lands will face some powerful opponents, including US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada). Reid had some very harsh words for the Bundy Ranch supporters, according to The Las Vegas Review Journal.

“Those people who hold themselves out to be patriots are not,” Reid told a crowd in Las Vegas. “They’re nothing more than domestic terrorists. I repeat: what went on up there was domestic terrorism.

“Clive Bundy does not recognize the United States,” Reid said. “He says that the United States is a foreign government. He doesn’t pay his taxes. He doesn’t pay his fees. And he doesn’t follow the law. He continues to thumb his nose at authority.”

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