Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Nevada Range War: Western States Move to Take over Federal Land

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Nevada Range War: Western States Move to Take over Federal Land

Article excerpt

Like a mustang tied to a fence post, many westerners for years have resisted Uncle Sam's control of land they say more properly belongs to states or counties - or to nobody at all except the ranchers, miners, and loggers who work the land for its natural resources.

The tussle over Cliven Bundy's 400 cows - grazing on federal land, although he refuses to pay the required fees now amounting to more than $1 million - sharpens this debate, which has featured state legislators, county officials, environmentalists, and federal judges (all of whom have ruled against Mr. Bundy).

In Salt Lake City Friday, representatives from Utah, Idaho, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming, Oregon, and Washington met for a "Legislative Summit on the Transfer of Public Lands."

"Those of us who live in the rural areas know how to take care of lands," Montana state Sen. Jennifer Fielder said at a news conference. "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."

In other words, today's revival of the "Sagebrush Rebellion" is as much about political philosophy as it is about great stretches of the largely-arid territory west of the 100th meridian splitting the Dakotas and running down through Texas.

There's a modern tea party political element to it, but it goes much farther back to when many western territories achieved statehood in the 19th century, working out deals with Washington (as Mormon Utah did over what adherents at the time called "plural marriages").

The map accompanying this article shows the difference between the West and the rest of the country. Here's a list showing percentages of federal land by state, according to the Congressional Research Service. It includes the US Bureau of Land Management, the US Forest Service, National Parks, and military bases: Nevada 81, Alaska 62, Utah 67, Oregon 53, Idaho 62, Arizona 42, California 48, Wyoming 48, New Mexico 35, Colorado 36.

State lawmakers say they're better prepared to manage such lands, both for the environment and for regional economies.

"There is a distinct difference in the way federal agencies are managing the federal lands today," Sen. Fielder said. "They used to do a good job, but they are hamstrung now with conflicting policies, politicized science, and an extreme financial crisis at the national level. It makes it impossible for these federal agencies to manage the lands responsibly anymore. …

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