In 11 Western states, the federal government owns more than 50% of the land, land they often use as a weapon as we recently saw during the government shutdown. A growing number of lawmakers want the land back.
Half of the West belongs to the federal government, including 48% of California, 69.1% of Alaska, 53.1% of Oregon, 48.1% of Arizona, 42.3% of Wyoming, 41.8% New Mexico, 36.6% of Colorado, 62% of Idaho, 66.5% of Utah and 81% of Nevada
More than 50 political leaders – lawmakers and county commissioners – from nine states held a Legislative Summit on the Transfer of Public Lands at Utah’s Capitol Friday to discuss wrestling control of oil, timber, and mineral rich lands from the feds. The Summit was organized by state Rep. Ken Ivory and Montana state sen. Jennifer Fiedler.
“It’s simply time,” said Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, who organized the Legislative Summit on the Transfer for Public Lands along with Montana state Sen. Jennifer Fielder. “The urgency is now.”
Utah House Speaker Becky Lockhart (R-Provo) addressed a press conference with her counterparts from Idaho and Montana. Sen. Mike Lee addressed the group which included representatives from New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming, Oregon and Washington.
This summit was planned before the Cliven Bundy standoff with the Bureau of Land Management. Lockhart said that what happened in Nevada was only a symptom.
Montana Sen. Jennifer Fiedler said: “Those of us who live in the rural areas know how to take care of lands.”
“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 said.
Idaho Speaker of the House Scott Bedke said Idaho forests and rangeland managed by the state have suffered less damage and watershed degradation from wildfire than have lands managed by federal agencies.
The lawmakers and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said they are only asking the federal government to make good on promises made in the 1894 Enabling Act for Utah to become a state. The intent was never to take over national parks and wilderness created by an act of Congress, said Lockhart. She added that they are not interested in taking over every acre.
Ivory said the federal government’s debt threatens the management of vast tracks of Western land and its ability to make payments in lieu of taxes to the states.
The University of Utah is conducting a study on how the states could manage the land if they are to succeed in getting control over their land.
Sen. Scott Renfroe of Colorado wants the federal government to sell back some of the 37% of land it controls. Along with Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, he put through House bill 1322 in March to require the feds to sell back the land but some lawmakers and the media in Colorado were opposed and the bill is postponed indefinitely.
The Republican National Committee passed a resolution to support the Western lawmakers who will attempt to take back the lands. South Carolina has joined in the resolution.
States are getting 13 cents on the dollar for federally-controlled land that has been taken off the taxpayer rolls. The states would create jobs if they had control of the land.
Sen. Mike Lee of Utah
Sen. Mike Lee discussed the abuse by the federal government in October 2013 during the shutdown. Public land versus government land:
In March 2012, Governor Herbert signed HB148, Utah’s Transfer of Public Lands Act, which demands that the United States extinguish title to Federal Lands and turn them over to the state to manage by the end of 2014. It’s a grassroots movement that is picking up steam. The next video gives a very thorough analysis of the issue and what the arguments are:
More information at the Salt Lake Tribune