Federal Government death-grip on western states is illegal

February 24, 2016

The Federal Government Should Follow the Constitution and Dispose of Western Lands to the States


The Federal Government maintains a death-grip on over 60% of western states, defying its constitutional duty to turn the land over to the states, as was done in earlier centuries with the lands east of the Continental Divide.


As originally published by National Review

‘Time and again [the president] preached cooperation and partnership. . . . And time and again he was the first to ignore his own call,” says the governor of Colorado. Wyoming’s governor complains: “The federal system is badly out of kilter. Federal encroachments on state and local governments are at an all-time high.” The governor of Arizona fumes: “What galls westerners is . . . the federal insistence that it is entitled to act not only as landowners, but also as sovereign.” Adds Colorado’s governor: “[Government bureaucrats] can’t figure out whether they’re landlord or king,” as they “steamroll state agencies, ride roughshod over regional water rights, and destroy environmental laws [in an] arrogant nullification of 200 years of constitutional history.”

These are the impassioned words, not of today’s western governors, but instead of governors from nearly four decades ago, Democrats all, objecting to the policies of President Jimmy Carter. Little wonder California governor Ronald Reagan, in an October 1979 radio address declared, “from the Rockies, across the deserts and all the way to the Pacific, the western states are voicing their angry resentment of a powerful absentee landlord — the Federal government, which has overlaid the West with controls and regulations as irksome as barb wire was in an earlier day.”

A president’s policies are enormously important not only to a western governor but also to the entity that manages the state’s lands and to county commissioners, especially in counties with massive federal land holdings. The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which controls nearly 250 million acres, and the Department of Agriculture’s U.S. Forest Service, which manages more than 190 million acres, together control land greater than the total size of Alaska; the acreage also exceeds the acreage of the next three largest states (Texas, California, and Montana) and Colorado combined. These lands are managed in accordance with “multiple-use” principles, which means they are to host a variety of activities, including energy and mineral development, logging, grazing, and recreation, to name a few.

Multiple-use was introduced in 1960 in the management of national forests and then extended to BLM lands in 1976. But something happened during the intervening years: the arrival of the environmental movement. Beginning with the National Environmental Policy Act (1969) and continuing through a plethora of other federal laws, Congress dramatically enhanced the power of the “public” to intervene in land-use decision making. For decades the only people interested in such parochial issues as grazing on barren expanses of western land were affected westerners. Now scores of environmental groups that are not affected by federal decisions but are interested anyway have stepped forward as the hyper-engaged public. (There is a difference. As we say out west, a chicken is interested in what you have for breakfast, but a pig is affected.) These groups have their own view of multiple-use, which lean heavily toward limited use, occasionally permitting recreation but usually favoring preservation or non-use. Environmental groups have intervened in land-management decision making, lobbied assiduously for congressional oversight and more restrictive federal laws, and litigated aggressively in federal court.

Nonetheless, it was not federal legislation that provoked the “Sagebrush Rebellion.” It was the policies of the Carter administration. Carter viewed himself as an environmentalist and staffed federal offices with people from the movement. Therefore, Governor Reagan, speaking in Salt Lake City in the summer of 1980, said: “I happen to be one who cheers and supports the Sagebrush Rebellion. Count me in as a rebel.” Later, a President Reagan declared that the federal government should be a “good neighbor” and recognize state sovereignty and federalism. By September of 1981, Newsweek reported the rebellion was over. But it’s back today, because President Obama governs like Carter, only worse. This time westerners know that only getting title to the much of the land in the West will bring real change.

Nonetheless, it was not federal legislation that provoked the ‘Sagebrush Rebellion.’ It was the policies of the Carter administration. In May 2013, National Public Radio’s All Things Considered told the tragic story of an Oregon woman’s desperate zero-dark-thirty telephone call to 911 seeking law enforcement’s help to stop her ex-boyfriend, who had put her in the hospital weeks earlier, from breaking into her house. Because of severe budget cuts, however, no sheriff deputies were on duty in Josephine County at night or on the weekends. In fact, the sheriff issued a press release advising domestic-violence victims to “consider relocating to an area with adequate law-enforcement services.” Unable to heed that advice or to get help from law enforcement, the woman was viciously attacked, sexually assaulted, and sodomized.

What happened to Josephine County? Sixty-seven percent of the county is owned by the federal government. In 1975, the county and its neighbor, Jackson County were home to 22 saw mills; none exist today, thanks to lawsuits by environmental groups and policies of the BLM and the Forest Service. In fact, the last mill closed the week of the NPR broadcast. Today Josephine County’s unemployment rate is 11 percent; 30 percent of residents are on food stamps.

The federal government owns one-third of the country’s landmass, most of it in the West: nearly a third of Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, and Washington; roughly half of Arizona, California, Oregon, and Wyoming; and almost two-thirds or even more of Alaska, Idaho, Nevada, and Utah — the three non-western states with the most federal land are New Hampshire (14 percent), Florida (13 percent), and Michigan (10 percent). Worse, federal ownership nears or exceeds 90 percent in many vast rural counties; for example, 85 percent of Kane County, Utah; 92 percent of Inyo County, Calif.; and 97 percent of Teton County, Wyo.

Something about this seems unfair. After all, in Shelby County v. Holder in 2013, Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the Court declared: “Not only do States retain sovereignty under the Constitution, there is also a ‘fundamental principle of equal sovereignty’ among the States. . . . Over a hundred years ago, this Court explained that our Nation ‘was and is a union of States, equal in power, dignity and authority.’” Where — one wonders, considering the fate of Josephine County, which after all is but an arm of the state of Oregon — is the “dignity” in what has befallen its residents? One could ask the same of Harney County, Ore., where overzealous federal prosecutors charged trespassing ranchers with terrorism; or Garfield County, Utah, which last year declared a state of economic emergency and that is still reeling from President Clinton’s edict barring a world-class coal mine there; or Campbell County, Wyo., which is the country’s largest supplier of coal (40 percent of America’s coal is mined there) and which Obama signaled last week he planned to kill.

Read the full article HERE

Reposted by  2/24/16

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