'Free the American West' (but Western lands could trigger revolt)

The Hill’s John Feehery asks the important question: Is this election about revolution or restoration? Since April 2009, when Texas Gov. Rick Perry chanted, “States’ rights, states’ rights, states’ rights!” at the Alamo, it’s been on people’s minds. Perry, Gingrich, Santorum, Bachmann and Paul have tendencies.

Revolt needs philosophers like Ron Paul, distinguished supporters like Perry, passionate advocates like Sarah Palin, warrior ascetics like Alaska’s Joe Miller and even mad hatters like Glenn Beck. But most of all a revolt needs casus belli; a singular cause that bonds to purpose. Otherwise, there is no rebellion. There is an issue today that qualifies: land.

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“Whose land is it?” Connor Boyack, director of the Utah Tenth Amendment Center, asks in The Daily Caller. “Has the federal government become so arrogant as to claim ownership of the land over which it has jurisdiction? Put differently, does the United States of America exist to protect and defend the property of each individual living within its borders, or to own and control that property itself? This is not a theoretical question reserved for intellectual banter. It is a real question pondered often, especially by those in western regions where the majority of land is owned and regulated by the federal government. Although the federal government owns less than 10 percent of almost every eastern state, it owns large swaths of the West: 65 percent of the land in Utah, 83 percent of Nevada, 63 percent of Idaho, 45 percent of Arizona, 44 percent of California and similar percentages of the surrounding western states.”

We never consider it back east, but demographics bring it. Slightly more than a hundred years back, the Western regions were virtually empty, struggling for a purchase under a Comanche moon. Today, those who prioneered there might want to make their own determinations.

Last week Robert H. Nelson, senior fellow with the Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif., wrote in the Los Angeles Times (“Free the American West,” March 7, 2012) that U.S. public land policy is a vestige of the past, established in 1910 when America’s population was just 92.2 million and a Western state such as Nevada had only 81,000 residents.

“The United States can no longer afford to keep tens of millions of acres of ‘public’ land locked up and out of service,” he writes. “Some of these lands have great commercial value; others are environmental treasures. We need policies capable of distinguishing between the two.”

Few Easterners realize the immense magnitude of the public lands, he says. The federal government's holdings include about 58 million acres in Nevada, 45 million acres in California, 34 million acres in Utah, 33 million acres in Idaho and more than a fourth of all the land in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon and Wyoming. Add to that Alaska, where 75 million surface acres are federal public lands.

“It is time to end outdated federal land policies that are draining our country's wealth, tying up valuable resources in red tape and bureaucracy, and harming the environment. The transition to a new system would take time, but it might reasonably be completed over a 10-year period, the same time frame Washington is using for deficit-reduction planning.”

Utah legislators are demanding the feds cede control of 30 million acres, and Boyack says other Western states are closely following with model legislation they can likewise implement.

But suppose the feds won’t let go? Does anyone really think they will?