Maybe We Should Start Calling it the Sagebrush Consensus

It’s a question that has come up frequently on our statewide radio talk show Voices of Montana– should more federal lands be placed into state hands? 

Beyond the standoff in Nevada, it appears that the Sagebrush Rebellion of the 1970’s may now be turning into a Sagebrush Consensus.  Can’t we better care for the land and better manage public access by transferring portions of federally owned land into state hands?  This debate is even more critical given that the federal government is now 18-trillion plus dollars in debt, not counting unfunded liabilities. 

Over the weekend, a meeting of Western lawmakers in Salt Lake City, Utah dominated national headlines. 

Here’s a story from The Christian Science Monitor which made The Drudge Report:

In Salt Lake City Friday, representatives from Utah, Idaho, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming, Oregon, and Washington met for a “Legislative Summit on the Transfer of Public Lands.”

“Those of us who live in the rural areas know how to take care of lands,” Montana state Sen. Jennifer Fielder said at a news conference. “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.”

In other words, today’s revival of the “Sagebrush Rebellion” is as much about political philosophy as it is about great stretches of the largely-arid territory west of the 100th meridian splitting the Dakotas and running down through Texas.

The former head of the Montana Policy Institute is now the Director of the Sutherland Center for Self Government based in Salt Lake.  Carl Graham offers this reaction via Twitter:

Utah lawmaker Ken Ivory has been leading the charge to transfer more federal lands into state hands.  Here’s video of his appearance on Fox and Friends Monday morning:  

Meanwhile, The Mountain States Legal Foundation, on Monday, announced the latest challenge to the federal government seeking to end grazing in the West.  


Mountain States Legal Foundation: Arizona Cattlemen Challenge Grazing Closure

April 16, 2014 – DENVER, CO.  A 110-year old association of Arizona cattlemen today challenged the decision of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to close nearly 100,000 acres of federal land to grazing.  The Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association (ACGA), which since January 1904 has sought orderly, systematic laws protecting livestock and property and represents more than 2,000 beef cattle producers and industry leaders throughout Arizona.  The ACGA filed a friend of the court brief with the Arizona federal district court urging the district court to require the BLM to revisit the issue of grazing in the Sonoma Desert National Monument.  The filing by the ACGA comes in response to a lawsuit filed by environmental groups demanding that more federal lands within the Monument be closed to grazing.  The ACGA supports a remand to the agency for further study arguing that the BLM did not have sufficient evidence to support its decision to eliminate grazing and that grazing must continue while the BLM revisits its decision.

“Our clients believe that the decision of the federal government was based on faulty and inadequate data and that while it corrects its mistakes the status quo, that is grazing, should continue,” said William Perry Pendley of Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF); MSLF represents the ACGA.

On January 17, 2001, during the final days of his second term, President Clinton issued a proclamation creating the Sonoran Desert National Monument, which specifically provided (with emphasis added):

Laws, regulations, and policies followed by the Bureau of Land Management in issuing and administering grazing permits or leases on all lands under its jurisdiction shall continue to apply with regard to the lands in the monument; provided, however, that grazing permits on Federal lands within the monument south of Interstate Highway 8 shall not be renewed at the end of their current term; and provided further, that grazing on Federal lands north of Interstate 8 shall be allowed to continue only to the extent that the Bureau of Land Management determines that grazing is compatible with the paramount purpose of protecting the objects identified in this proclamation.

Prior to the Proclamation, livestock grazing occurred on 252,500 acres of what is now Monument land north of I-8.  On August 26, 2011, the BLM issued a draft Resource Management Plan (RMP) regarding grazing in the Monument.  The BLM allowed a 90-day public comment period on the Draft RMP and then, on June 15, 2012, the BLM issued its Proposed RMP and Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).  On September 14, 2012, the BLM issued a Record of Decision (ROD) adopting its proposed RMP, which ended grazing on 95,290 acres of the Monument north of I-8 but continuing grazing on the remaining 157,210 acres of the Monument north of I-8. 

On May 20, 2013, Western Watersheds Project and the Sierra Club filed a complaint in Arizona federal district court, demanding that portions of the RMP allowing grazing be vacated and remanded for further analysis.

Mountain States Legal Foundation, created in 1977, is a nonprofit, public-interest legal foundation dedicated to individual liberty, the right to own and use property, limited and ethical government, and the free enterprise system.  Its offices are in suburban Denver, Colorado.

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