The state legislature here in Utah has proposed setting aside $14 million for legal action against the federal government to “force” the United States to turn over all public lands to the state. This is just the latest effort in Utah to grab federal lands.
There are several aspects of this hullabaloo over federal lands that neither the legislature nor the Bundyites seem to understand… or want to. First, the Constitution vests public lands in the federal government, and numerous court cases have upheld that reading of the Constitution. Second, a 2012 study calculated that managing those lands would cost the state of Utah something like $278 million a year, and while much of that cost might be initially reclaimed by oil, gas, and coal leases, once the resources were extracted, the costs of management would remain, and the lands would have even less value. Third, if the grasslands were leased to ranchers, either the grazing fees would have to increase, since the BLM only charges about a third of what it costs the BLM for management [and one of the problems now is that the BLM doesn’t have enough money to manage the wild horse problem and a few others], or the state would have to pick up the difference, which it can’t afford.
In short, not only is what the legislature proposes illegal and unconstitutional, but the federal government is actually subsidizing the ranchers and the state of Utah, something the legislators don’t seem able to grasp.
The ranchers here in southern Utah are furious that the BLM doesn’t essentially round up all the wild horses so that there’s more forage for their cattle, but even if the BLM had the resources to do that, which it doesn’t, because Congress has insisted on not fully funding the BLM and upon keeping grazing fees low, that still wouldn’t solve the problem, because not only were western water rights predicated on the climate of the early part of the nineteenth century [which geologists have discovered was one of the wettest times here in the west in something like 10,000 years], but so were grazing rights. That is why the BLM has cut down on the number of animals allowed per acre, which is yet another rancher complaint.
In short, the ranchers, the legislature, and the Bundyites are precluded from doing as they please by the Constitution, the climate situation, and the Congress, and they’re so unhappy about it that they think the second amendment is the only answer. So, despite all their railing about their Constitutional rights, I guess they really mean that they intend to comply with just those parts of the Constitution whose they agree with, and that they’ll continue to insist that the Supreme Court has been wrong about what the Constitution means for over a century.