“Time and time again, the Federal government has breached its promises with respect to the public lands. Western states are moving to compel the Federal government to honor the same promise it made and kept with all states east of Colorado: to timely dispose of the public lands so they can be managed by those whose lives and livelihoods depend upon the wide management of those lands.” – American Lands Council
When the western states were asked to join the union, they each agreed to sign a compact with the federal government much as the eastern states had done. The federal government – had turned over lands to the eastern states as they became established, to control and develop their resources for the benefit of those states, in compliance with the compact signed by both parties.
However, the western compacts were not treated the same as the east’s legal, binding contracts. The federal government did not want to release claim to the rich resources held in the west, such as timber, mining, and minerals. There was a “gold rush” going on at the time, and the federal government wanted in on it, so it defaulted on the agreement with the western states.
Excessive federal control and regulation eventually stripped the western states of their right to graze cattle, to mine, and to generate a tax base from their natural resources as the eastern states do. The west had watched the fed’s malfeasance and mismanagement of forests, rivers and mining for decades. This created an ongoing feud called the “Sagebrush Rebellion.”
In 1828, the states of Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama and Florida repeatedly complained to Congress. The Enabling Act for those states had not been honored. The Act required the federal government to “extinguish title” to the states’ public lands. Eventually, the persistence of the eastern states upheld their inherent right to harvest and profit from the resources of their own land.
Anger erupted when westerners were denied equal access to their land’s abundance. Historically, the most active and vocal groups on this issue in the west have been the small cattlemen. They fought for years against the “absentee landlord system” which made them tenants of the federal government on land rightfully belonging to the states and to the people. What galled westerners above all else was the belief that the kinds of restrictions placed on them had NEVER been placed on the east.
Events and tempers gradually escalated over the years, when in 1979, President Jimmy Carter’s “War on the West” inflamed a second “Sagebrush Rebellion.” This time, overwhelming grassroots support for the rights of the people and the states quickly sprung up across the west.
Using the Antiquities Act, President Carter locked up more land than any other president before him, taking more than 50 million acres in Alaska alone, despite strong opposition from the state. Later, President Clinton used the Antiquities Act 22 times to prohibit hunting, mining, forestry, oil production, and even grazing in 5.9 million acres scattered across the U.S. Using the loophole, he single-handedly created 19 new land-grabbing “national monuments” and expanded three others without consulting Congress or the states.
One of the monuments President Clinton targeted was the Grande Staircase-Escalante in Utah, where 135,000 acres of land had been leased for oil and gas and about 65,000 barrels of oil were produced each year from five active wells. But President Clinton put an end to developing these vital resources, killing jobs and making Americans even more dependent on foreign countries for oil.
In an illegal move against the states in 1976, Congress passed the FLPMA, which stated that most National Forest Service and BLM land would NEVER be released to state or private control. The bill was written under the assumption that the economic benefits would prove “too tempting to the locals” and environmental concerns would be ignored in favor of fast cash. Yet the federal government’s negligent land management program, leaving billions of standing dead trees, is what has fostered the monster forest fires that rage through the west each summer because of their so-called “environmental concerns”.
Utah Representative Ken Ivory writes, “Right now, the forests – which were a renewable resource, with the revenue funding schools, roads and public safety – have been shut down to timber harvesting, and now they’re basically tinder boxes. We’ve got so much dead wood standing in the forests that, in fact, the FBI is even warning our state foresters that terrorists are encouraging wildfires as a form of jihad. The forests are so dense now that the trees can’t defend themselves and fend off natural diseases and pests, so forests throughout the West are largely dead or dying just waiting for any spark to ignite the next catastrophic wildfire…more than 50% of all land in the western United States is owned and controlled by the federal government. This is in a nation that was founded on the principles of inherent, inalienable rights to life, liberty and property. World-renowned economist John Kenneth Galbraith made the statement in the mid-1980s that ‘where the socialized ownership of land is concerned, only the USSR and China can claim company with the United States’.”
At this point, Federal holdings included nearly a third of Colorado, Montana, New Mexico and Washington; roughly half of Arizona, California, Oregon and Wyoming; and two-thirds or more of Alaska, Idaho, Nevada and Utah. By comparison, the three non-Western states with the MOST federal land are New Hampshire (14%), Florida (13%), and Michigan (10%).
Nationally, the United States government has direct ownership of almost 650 million acres of land – nearly 30% of its total territory.
According to the Institute for Energy Research, there is more than $150 TRILLION dollars of mineral value and more oil than Saudi Arabia and the rest of the world combined, locked up in federally controlled lands. This unconstitutional control locks up jobs, economic growth and opportunity, not only in the west, but also throughout the entire nation.
As the anger and frustration continue to escalate over the theft of rights concerning land, water, mineral, and mining, the federal government remains unrelenting in its unlawful abuse of the people and the states that desperately need their own natural resources to survive.
Like pouring gasoline on a raging forest fire, our federal government has inadvertently called attention to this issue and has cultivated the climate to force more ranchers like the Bundys, Hammonds, and the Hages to defend their right to earn a living as they have for generations. What’s at stake for all Americans are our inherent rights to life, liberty and property, without which, freedom cannot exist.
Article by Idaho CSG Student, Susan Frickey
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