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July 2, 2014

How the West Was Won (For the Feds)

The federal government owns massive amounts of Western land. How did that happen?

In the Republic’s youth, the government owned most of the land, but wanting to develop it, sold the land cheaply or gave it away under homesteading. Now the feds own over 2% of the land in only two states on the East Coast. But in the West the feds own 87% of the land and want more.

What caused this change? Theodore Roosevelt, for one, although in fairness, he was hardly alone. But he had the bully pulpit and the most power. Nominally a Republican, TR believed in a large central government in Washington to run everything smoothly.

While in the West, he was deeply touched by its vastness and beauty. He reasoned that the land needed protection from the coming sea of settlers. A self-declared conservationist, he founded the National Parks Service. In all cases except for the territories of Arizona, New Mexico, Alaska and Hawaii, he appropriated state land for national parks. Many argue that was unconstitutional.

The Constitution’s “Property Clause” (Article II, Section 3, Clause 2) seems to empower the federal government with sole discretion over the property of the entire country, but the Founders had nothing like that in mind. In their writings both before and after the Constitution was ratified, they made it clear they considered each state to be fully sovereign. And during the nation’s first 50 years, courts ruled for state sovereignty every time. But after the War Between the States, the federal government won more power in case after case, and incrementally the meaning of the Clause was completely reversed.

That hardly settles the issue, however. The Cliven Bundy standoff is clear proof. Many Westerners support the Ninth and Tenth Amendments – they want the feds out.

Like all states under Obamanomics, those in the West have serious economic problems. Half of adults are collecting benefits and many will be welfare “lifers.” But the West also has vast natural resources, so much so that if our bosses in Washington released them, the economy would turn around, the national debt could begin declining and the United States could be energy independent. But such things are unimportant to the EPA when, as in Bundy’s case, a tortoise is “at risk.”

The massive Bakken oil field underlies North and South Dakota and Montana. The existing portion of the Keystone pipeline carries crude oil from Bakken, and North Dakota’s economy in particular is booming because of it. But oil is still off-limits on most federal land, and Barack Obama’s regime has so far blocked extending the Keystone pipeline to transport Canadian oil.

Making federal land available for drilling is critical. Of course, that means multi-use land, not Yellowstone National Park. But greenies argue allowing states to own the land is lunacy. “It’s laughable,” says John Horning of WildEarth Guardians. “Public lands are a birthright for all Americans.” He says New Mexico “is probably over its head” in its attempt to take control of some federal land.

But New Mexico isn’t alone. Utah also passed a bill demanding the feds return 20 million acres. Idaho estimated an economic gain of $51 million if 16.4 million acres are returned to the state. Nevada joins four states establishing a task force studying benefits of transferring federal land to state ownership.

Contrary to Horning’s feelings, federal lands are notoriously mismanaged. A perfect example of malfeasance is the wildfires of 1997 that burned for weeks in 11 states. They were nearly impossible to stop because ecofascists prevented loggers from removing deadwood and thinning trees so forests were jam-packed with tinder, just awaiting the spark. Millions of acres and hundreds of homes were destroyed.

Despite its history of failure, the federal government increasingly meddles in the West in a concerted effort to grab all open Western land.

The Bundy standoff is just a recent symbol of what’s been dubbed the Sagebrush Rebellion. It’s fed by decades of anger and frustration over government’s mismanagement of land for one thing, but also because the continued ignoring of the depredation of illegal immigration. That’s especially true now with Obama’s importation of future Democrats while ignoring the plight of the children being shuffled from one crowded, stifling bus to another. His obliviousness perhaps shows the rot in Obama’s soul better than anything else could.

But we digress. When it comes to federal land, the bottom line – as with all state versus feds issues – is who’s the better manager of their own backyard? The answer is obvious, but wresting land from the grasp of the feds won’t be easy.

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