I recommend reading this story for some background first.
From what I’ve read, neither side is doing much right in the Bundy case; and actually seperate, broader state vs federal land control issue is getting muddied because people are missing so much of the broader implications.
As I’ve read it, the rancher, Cliven Bundy, stopped paying grazing fees in 1993. He tried paying some to the state and county, but the BLM owns and controls the land. The bills he did pay to the state and county weren’t consistent with what the BLM charged for land usage fees. Bundy’s lost a lot of court fights, and for whatever reason the BLM changed the grazing rules. Regardless of why, if that’s part of the contract to graze, and he agreed to it, when they said “lose 90% of your herd or leave”, he simply decided to stay, and fought in court for decades, losing again and again. He claims that since his family is there, he can graze where he wants, he claims that his improvements to the land mean its his, and he claims that the state should own the land and not the federal government, so BLM be damned.
There are a lot of folks taking his side because they’re blindly sick of fedgov overreach. But I think a lot of it comes down to pictures of cows and cowboys, and some romanticized western visuals… and some folks hearing what they want to hear.
Let’s say Reverend Al Sharpton and Reverend Jeremiah “God Damn America” Wright were in a church in Chicago that was owned by the federal government as a national historical site, and run by the National Park Service since 1848 when it was acquired by the federal government (like how the territory that long predated the state Nevada was acquired by the US government in 1848 due to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo). Reverends Sharpton and Wright’s congregations rent out the church on a use-basis starting in 1884, and so they’ve been there 130 years. Sometime around 1993, Sharpton and Wright decide that the National Park Service is racist against them for raising usage rates, and they refuse to pay any more usage fees. They continue making a profit on the church’s operation, despite the church not being their property. They install “improvements” that change the historical nature of the church, but it helps their bottom lines.
They tell a story of how other churches have been shut down by the NPS, and they fight in court, all the while occupying the church. They lose court case after court case, and finally in 2014, more than twenty years after they’ve stopped paying the usage fees to the National Park Service, they start saying the church is really community property and really bleongs to the city of Chicago. They say they’ve tried to pay Chicago (which doesn’t take their money, citing the church as NPS-controlled federal property), and then finally the NPS sends people to remove the Sharpton and Wright staff and equipment from the church.
Sharpton and Wright summon like-minded armed community activists to their side, Black Panthers come from across the country, and an armed standoff takes place between the Sharpton-Wright group and the NPS.
Okay, now which side seems reasonable? Sharpton and Wright, who are using public property for their own ends to make a profit and actively courting armed resistance after losing in the courts and making claims with no legal basis of ownership, or the NPS who are enforcing an order after two decades of leniency?
That’s why I’m not on Bundy’s side. He’s using public property that was never his, that was never even Nevada’s, that was never the property of any entity inside the US but the federal government.
He’s made a fanciful story and absurd claims of non-ownership draped in Gadsden flags and wrapped in patriotic rhetoric but it all boils down to wanting to run an industrial operation in stripping public land of vegetation (grazing) with photogenic biological machinery (cows) for the purpose of his own agricultural business. As well, the “improvements” he’s made to the land, like water troughs and such, are simply improvements for his own business bottom line. Watering cattle is good for him, but the second and third order effects of watering coyotes and any number of predators and invasive species that would otherwise not thrive so well in the desert distorts and changes the ecology. As the federal government owns the land, and the BLM manages it, if they don’t want somebody building structures to water cows (and coyotes), that’s up to them – not to the non-paying renter.
Now, as for the BLM, I’m not on their side either. Their actions that were reported at the end include shooting cattle, driving over the ostensibly endangered desert tortoise burrows, and basically being hamfisted and inept at best. So the BLM sucked in this case, too.
What may suck even more is that supposedly one of Harry Reid’s kin is in charge of the BLM in Nevada and is out to push for an expansion of the desert tortoise habitat towards the leases Bundy had been squatting (but nobody really cared that much) on in order to allow for a Chinese-based solar energy farm in the desert. Basically they rezoned the desert tortoise area and then the solar farm could be built. That makes it a much more conventional land grab.
Now, as for western land control, there’s another problem.
It’s time for Western states to take control of federal lands within their borders, lawmakers and county commissioners from Western states said at Utah’s Capitol on Friday.
More than 50 political leaders from nine states convened for the first time to talk about their joint goal: wresting control of oil-, timber -and mineral-rich lands away from the feds.
“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.”
I don’t trust a leftist demanding a gun ban when they say “it’s simply time” and I don’t trust anyone else saying the same thing, no matter what letter is next to their name.
“Those of us who live in the rural areas know how to take care of lands,” Fielder said, who lives in the northwestern Montana town of Thompson Falls.
“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.
The state legislators want to take the land for their own purposes.
They want to give it to their own cronies. They want to divide federal lands that might not be being actively used and sell them up to developers, to industrial groups, to investors, to any number of people who aren’t you.
All that federal land sitting there waiting to be snatched could easily be handed off to any number of groups that will make those lawmakers massively wealthy. Of course, they’ll cut themselves a massive ranch out of that land for themselves, of course.
Federal land right now is difficult to utilize for big operations. It’s difficult for businesses to use, it’s difficult for politicians to sell off to their cronies at the federal level. With obnoxious regulations, it’s often more difficult than it needs to be, but the fact that it’s federal land also protects it from instant abuse, sale, and destruction.
If you want to see a land grab and a radical change in the American west, give land to the states. Millions of acres will go not to you, the hardworking citizen who goes hunting on BLM land, hiking in national forests, and fishing in Bureau of Reclamation reservoirs, but to huge corporations that pay off state legislators, and to multibillionaire investors who pay off state legislatures.
George Soros will have his own 500,000 acre ranch. You will not.
It seems, however, that even if we accept all of the above examples, there is still an argument to be made that public lands which are not being dutifully maintained to serve some valid purpose of the public would be better classified as state lands. There used to be a lot of state land, even where I grew up in rural New York. The state maintained control of such lands and could preserve it or sell it to residents as they saw fit.
Bold emphasis mine.
There used to be a lot of state land… and then somehow it all went away, as if by magic? No.
Giving it to the states means there’s one less layer of protection for that land as public land, and giving it to state legislatures is just asking for it to be thrown around to their cronies. That is the predictable and inevitable result.
Public lands in state hands will go away due to state-level corruption.
States that were acquired by the federal government, and that didn’t enter the union as states of their own, still have huge amounts of federal land within them. Could a more receptive fedgov lessen some restrictions? Absolutely. That’d be great.
Could the EPA go back to dealing with the ravens that are killing desert tortoises rather than mess around with public lands? Yes. Could we amend the Migratory Bird Act that protects the ravens so they can kill some and protect the tortoises? Sure. Could we amend the Endangered Species Act to recognize that some species are just on their way to extinction? Sure. Could we amend it to allow the free market to save those species? Maybe have people adopt and own desert tortoises as pets in order to save the species? Maybe.
Should we go and give state-level corrupt politician X access to hundreds of thousands or millions of acres of land to give to his buddies? No.
What’s lost in the broader context is also that public land is there for everyone. People who live where all land is private, or where “public land” means a postage-stamp sized park don’t understand.
For example, this is some public land that I went out used as a 900 yard range one day.
There are some oil and gas sites out on that expanse of land, but they’re miles apart due to size. There’s no water on that land except what nature provides, so it’s good for desert animals, but not so much for cattle. It’s not land meant for cattle either. It’s the kind of land the buffalo wouldn’t have roamed so much since there’s not much water out there.
But if you want to go hiking in old grassland or go sport shooting or go hunting, or ride your horse or drive your Raptor or just go see what the old prairie was, it’s still there.
If you’re a local and you wanted to graze your cattle there, you’d have to navigate the BLM’s mission that’s to prevent the tragedy of the commons, but you probably could.
And the hiker, the sport shooter, the horse rider, the hunter, the driver and the naturalist and the oil man could all still use that land – because it’s still public land.
If you gave control of that land to state congressman X, he’d sell the whole place to his pal in ConHugeCo Inc. in a heartbeat and instead of a “don’t make ruts and screw up the prairie” sign, there’d be this:
This is just giving access to state legislatures to pad their nests with funds pilfered through sale of public lands.
The sale of that public land would radically change the nature and culture of western states. Instead of the droves of retiring baby boomer leftists deserting California for Colorado and turning it disgustingly leftist, there’d be swarms of occupy leftists warping the entire western US into the same because there’d be so much “free” land available.
The cultural change would be utterly devastating, as states with low populations would be overwhelmed so rapidly they would never have time to adapt, nor to even understand how fast they were being changed.
This has to factor into any discussion as well, because the very nature of the Republic would be at stake as western states that are “deep red” and provide balance in the senate are often low in population. Heck, Nevada even manages to keep Harry Reid in line with regards to Second Amendment issues.
Folks from states that don’t have much public land for a plethora of historical reasons may not quite understand the significance, and some folks out west who think they’ll “get theirs” don’t necessarily think of the second and third order effects of the radical change of land ownership.
The questions always have to be “why?”, “what then?”, and “what happens next?”
If the why is to allow for better usage, that involves pushback against environment laws and regs. That helps business and private citizen interests without compromising land access for the public. We know the what then and what happens next still keeps that land open for all of us.
When the “time is now” answer is to give it to the states… well, like Jazz said, there “used to be” a lot of state land. We know what then and what happened next.
WaPo’s guide on the story certainly isn’t everything you need to know, but it gives some interesting info, like the size and nature of Bundy’s family and the conditions of relations between the federal authorities tasked with managing the land and some rural residents who simply resent any outsiders. It ignores that a longtime aide of Harry Reid’s just became the national BLM director, as well as Harry Reid’s stupid assertion that Cliven Bundy’s supporters are domestic terrorists (unless the WaPo stories about pipe bombs dropped at federal offices years ago are what he’s confusing here).
Of course, being aimed in on federal agents who have given twenty years of leniency to someone whose cows are grazing on taxpayer grass without paying before finally enforcing an order doesn’t exactly sound of good judgement, either.
Then there’s also the “put women and children up front first” angle. It’s not domestic terrorism, but it’s a shady tactic used in order to precipitate a conflict that will look better for the Bundy family.