Western States Look to Regain Control of Federal Land

Last Friday, 50 political leaders from nine Western states convened in Salt Lake City, Utah for the Legislative Summit on the Transfer of Public Lands. These lawmakers said that the time has come for them to take control of resource-rich federal lands within their borders. They also suggested that the standoff between Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and the federal government was a problem waiting to happen.

“It’s simply time… the urgency is now,” said Rep. Ken Ivory, a Utah legislator who organized the event along with Montana state senator Jennifer Fielder.

“Those of us who lives in the rural areas know how to take care of lands,” said Fielder. “We have to start managing these lands. It’s the right thing to do for our people, for our environment, for our economy and for our freedoms.” Fielder added that federal land management is hamstrung by bad policies, politicized science and severe federal budget cuts.

The all-day, closed-doors summit was scheduled before the tense standoff between the BLM and the Bundy Ranch over grazing rights and fees allegedly owed to the federal government. However, the incident magnified the issue of federal claims over state land.

The U.S. Constitution (Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17) restricts federal ownership of land for very limited purposes outside of Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, the Constitution doesn’t mean much to the feds nowadays.

According to the Congressional Research Service, 93% of the land the federal government claims to own is located in 13 Western states. And the feds own 52% of all the land in Western states. Here’s a partial list of the percentages: Nevada 81, Utah 67, Alaska 62, Idaho 62, Oregon 53, California 48, Wyoming 48, Arizona 42, Colorado 36 and New Mexico 35.

Western Federal Land Grab

Utah House Speaker Becky Lockhart (R-Provo) held a press conference with a dozen other attendees after the day-long meeting concluded. “What’s happened in Nevada is really just a symptom of a much larger problem,” said Lockhart. U.S. Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) also addressed the group over lunch.

Idaho House Speaker Scott Bedke argued that Idaho forests and rangeland managed by his state suffered less damage and watershed degradation than those lands managed by federal agencies.

The Bundy Ranch standoff appears to have been the “canary in the coalmine,” and a preview of a larger battle between Western states and Washington. Let’s hope that more land is transferred back to the states from a bloated and inefficient federal government.