Westerners and federal land

"Revolt needs philosophers like [former Rep.] Ron Paul [R-Texas], distinguished supporters like [Texas Gov. Rick] Perry [R], passionate advocates like [former Alaska Gov.] Sarah Palin [R], warrior ascetics like Alaska's [former Republican Senate candidate] Joe Miller and even mad hatters like Glenn Beck," I wrote here in 2012. "But most of all a revolt needs casus belli; a singular cause that bonds it to purpose. Otherwise, there is no rebellion. There is an issue today that qualifies: land."

And so it arrives. As stated in The Salt Lake Tribune this Good Friday: "Western lawmakers gather in Utah to talk federal land takeover."

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May I be the first to suggest that this is an issue that will not go away? It is driven essentially by post-World War II demographics and economics. May I suggest that this will be the definitive issue of the rising times?

"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," the Tribune reports. "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 (sic) mineral-rich lands away from the feds."

"'It's simply time,' said [Utah state] Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, who organized the Legislative Summit on the Transfer of Public Lands along with Montana state Sen. Jennifer Fielder [R]. 'The urgency is now,'" the paper reports.

The situation rising today in Utah advances the amorphous moods, rants and howls of the waning Tea Party now to a specific policy level and awakens in America a legitimate new movement. America's fate today lies within the successful accommodation of these issues which bear on states' rights, regional autonomy, constitutional government and devolution of federal power, between federal government and Western ranchers.

"Few Easterners realize the immense magnitude of the public lands," Robert H. Nelson, a senior fellow at the Independent Institute, wrote in The Los Angeles Times in 2012 in an article titled "Free the American West." "The federal government's holdings include about 58 million acres in Nevada, or 83% of the state's total land mass; 45 million acres in California (45% of the state); 34 million acres in Utah (65%); 33 million acres in Idaho (63%); and more than a fourth of all the land in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon and Wyoming."

"Like much else in government, 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," Nelson said. "Today our needs are much different and much greater. The United States can no longer afford to keep tens of millions of acres of 'public' land locked up and out of service. Some of these lands have great commercial value; others are environmental treasures. We need policies capable of distinguishing between the two."

It might be said that the Tea Party was prelude to this moment. And this past week, under a blood moon, it crosses a river. What happens in the Southwest is important. It is an existential shift in self- and regional determination. And what happens here and now in these lands matters as well to California; Oregon; Alaska; Vermont; Venice, Italy; Catalonia [Spain]; Quebec and Scotland. It matters to everyone.

"But suppose the feds won't let go," I asked back in my 2012 piece. "Does anyone really think they will?" 

Quigley is a prize-winning writer who has worked more than 35 years as a book and magazine editor, political commentator and reviewer. For 20 years he has been an amateur farmer, raising Tunis sheep and organic vegetables. He lives in New Hampshire with his wife and four children. Contact him at quigley1985@gmail.com.