The “Federal Lands Fight”

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.

7 thoughts on “The “Federal Lands Fight””

  1. Alison Hamway says:

    The LA Times and our local Oregon news media has reported that Bundy sons and supporters who invaded and took over the Malheur Wildlife refuge carry a revised and expanded edition of the Constitution, annotated and amended to include all sorts of language supportive to their cause. So if they don’t agree with the Constitution — they are selecting a whole other document.

  2. Robert The Addled says:

    In my opinion – another case of short sightedness – the resources were set aside for future generations.

    Also a case of laws not keeping up with the times – the lease rates/prices they are paying should be much higher if they were kept up with the relative value of a dollar compared to when the program was established.

  3. Jeff says:

    From what I remember, the Utah state public lands (school trust lands, I think) have fees that are significantly higher than the BLM.

    1. From what I’ve been able to determine, all states with lands for grazing charge more than the BLM, by more than twice as much, and in some cases, six times as much.

  4. D Archerd says:

    The “Bundyites” and their supporters in the Utah state legislature who publicly condone seizure of federal lands by force are armed rebels against the people of the United States and should be treated as such.

  5. CRM says:

    So I’m guessing that these guys would have no problem with paying for maintenance and upkeep on their own private property. How is having to pay for using federal lands (owned by everyone) really any different?

    Where did the weird dichotomy between “the people” or “citizens” and “THE GOVERNMENT” come from?

  6. Wine Guy says:

    The dichotomy comes when people start putting their own wants above the needs and futures of others.

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