new logo

Let's call it the Sagebrush Tantrum




The term "sagebrush rebellion" lends undeserved dignity to the anti-public -land hysteria currently engaging lawmakers in several western states.


Last Friday, Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed legislation that calls for the federal government to turn over our public lands in Utah to the state.  Arizona is attempting a similar measure, and New Mexico, Colorado, Idaho, and Montana are looking to follow suit. According to USA Today, "If the federal government fails to comply by the end of 2014, the states say they will begin sending property-tax bills to Washington."


These efforts are doomed to failure, as the Property Clause in the U.S. Constitution vests control over federal public lands in the Congress--state legislatures have no authority over them.  


But the discontent among some westerners over our abundant public land has been a constant. It is often the embodiment of a generalized loathing for all things Federal, and a handy issue for whipping up the conservative base. While campaigning in Nevada recently, candidate Mitt Romney stated, "Unless there's a valid, legitimate and compelling public purpose, I don't know why the government owns so much of this land."


In fact, you and he and I own it, not "the government."


The Sagebrush Rebellion of the 1980s, centered largely on the big public land states of Utah and Nevada, was endorsed by President Ronald Reagan and made a poster boy out of Interior Secretary James Watt, but it failed in its aspiration to claim the federally-managed public lands for the states. 


Why did it fail, and why will the current hysteria, too, dissipate? What unhorsed the Reagan-era rebellion wasn't the entrenchment of federal agencies. It was the realization among public land ranchers, miners, and other exploiters that the end of federal management could mean the end of their lavish subsidies, like below-market rates for livestock grazing and easy access to public lands for oil, gas, and mineral extraction


In that regard, things have not changed much since the 1980s. And those of us who value public lands for more benevolent reasons may just have to wait for the latest tantrum to blow over. 





-Janine, Chris, and Emily 




Quick Links... 

k s