Unless you’ve had your head under a rock you’ve likely heard about some Western States efforts to push the federal government to hand over public lands. This isn’t a new movement, it’s been tried before and failed. In the late ’70’s and early ’80’s Senator Hatch (UT) introduced a bill with the same intentions of taking federal land into state ownership. Like the “sagebrush rebels” at the time the bill failed, but the intentions didn’t go away.
Keep “Our” Land
These public lands are a national treasure for all citizens of the United States to enjoy. The federal government doesn’t own them, “we the people” do, and the feds have the responsibility to manage them for our benefit. That means someone in Chicago has the same right of ownership to a piece of public land in Wyoming as someone in Montana, or Wyoming for that matter. The reason there’s so much public land out West is after the Civil War people started settling the West on lands that the government had been acquiring (i.e. Louisiana purchase, Mexican cession). As states started being admitted to the Union the federal government gave them a certain portion of those federal lands (i.e. state trust lands) and in turn the states agreed, through signing of statehood enabling acts, to forgo any claim to the remainder of federal lands within their borders. So when you hear a state representative say they want to take back federal land, know that it was never theirs to begin with and they agreed through statehood enabling acts that it never would be. It was always meant to be held as a public trust for the people.
Even though the sagebrush rebellion of the “70’s and 80’s failed, the want of special interests to take over public lands has not gone away. One of the differences this time is the marketing strategy is much more cunning. Instead of saying “take over”, “sale”, or “liquidate” they package the same cruddy ideas into into nicer things like “land transfer” or “state management” when the end goal is the same; increase revenue through selling land outright, leasing land to special interest and corporations, and raising user fees. For example grazing fees on BLM land are $1.87/AUM in 2017, down from $2.11/AUM in 2016. State land grazing fees can range anywhere from $6.19/AUM in New Mexico to $18.00/AUM in Colorado. Private grazing leases are even more. So for Western States to claim it’ll benefit rural economies is laughable. The reason they’ll need to sell and lease to special interest and corporations is because there’s no possible way one of these states has the funding to sufficiently manage, the economics just doesn’t add up. After the first wildfire the budgets will be burnt!
The state land board management model in many western state is set up to make money, that’s just the way it is. Nevada has sold over 90% of its state lands, Oregon over 50%. Utah, Idaho, New Mexico, and Colorado have all sold more than a third. Beside selling, state land boards restrict uses that we enjoy for free on public federal land. In Colorado for example you cannot hunt, fish, shoot, hike, camp, bike, or use State Trust Lands in any way unless you hold the land lease. Utah is a little better but not much. The Utah Division of Wildlife pays the state land board hundreds-of-thousands of taxpayer dollars for access to a portion of State Trust Lands, money that could of possibly been used for wildlife conservation.
Public Lands Legacy
Don’t take the nicely packaged marketing bait. State ownership of public land is anti-hunting, anti-sportsman, anti-camping, anti-fishing, and anti-Americas heritage. We love and treasure our public lands and encourage every Public Land Owner out there to stand up for our public lands legacy.