Dan Gilmore / Jan. 26, 2016

Utah to Feds: ‘Give Our Land Back’

From sea to shining sea, the U.S. federal government owns a lot of real estate.

From sea to shining sea, the U.S. federal government owns a lot of real estate. The feds own 640 million acres, or 28% percent of America’s land, according to the Congressional Research Service — and the percentage is over 80% in much of the West. Ad hoc regulations lead to resentment. The government can declare how it will manage its federal land, and that’s that — little due process, and nothing to go through a representational government. Enter the Republican U.S. representatives from Utah, Jason Chaffetz and Rob Bishop. After three years of study, the two lawmakers introduced a bill that they hope will shrink the amount of land the federal government holds, preserve cherished land and stimulate economic activity. With so many groups holding a stake in the fate of federal land, there is opposition. For example, Utah’s Native American tribes say the bill doesn’t go far enough to preserve their sacred sites.

Meanwhile, at least one presidential candidate has weighed in on the issue of federal lands. When asked by Field and Stream Magazine what he thought about states taking over the management of federal land, especially given that 70% of hunters out West use the land to pursue their quarry, Donald Trump saw it as a way to win hearts and minds in the outdoor community.

> “I don’t like the idea because I want to keep the lands great, and you don’t know what the state is going to do. I mean, are they going to sell if they get into a little bit of trouble? … And it’s just like the erosion of the Second Amendment. I mean, every day you hear Hillary Clinton wants to essentially wipe out the Second Amendment. We have to protect the Second Amendment, and we have to protect our lands.”

While snatching up federal land was a priority of politicians like Teddy Roosevelt, the Constitution doesn’t protect federally controlled land like it does the right to bear arms. It does, however, contain the Tenth Amendment, which says if a power isn’t enumerated in the document, it belongs to the states. Guess where federal land management falls. Trump may say he’d manage federal lands well, and maybe he would. But with that centralized power, would his successor manage it as well? And that is one of the reasons a centralized government doesn’t work.

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