Liberate The Federally Occupied Western States
U.S. senators and governors from nine Western states held a first-ever summit on Friday in Salt Lake City to win more control over the vast swaths of federal land in their states. The summit had been planned before the standoff between the federal Bureau of Land Management and Nevada cattle rancher Cliven Bundy a week earlier had focused national attention on the plight of the federally occupied West.
Rural residents there are being stripped of their livelihoods by federal agencies that take orders from Washington, D.C., and don’t understand their way of life.
Their discontent boiled over at the local Moapa Valley Town Board Meeting in Nevada on April 9.
“This is a hell of a lot bigger than Cliven Bundy,” said Charlie Childers, standing in front of a sign stating “We are dedicated to maintain a rural lifestyle.”
Childers warned that the federal agents who are attacking Bundy “are setting a precedent” and will drive ranchers out of one area after another.
Turtles And Owls …
It’s possible. The federal government owns 81% of the land in Nevada and controls nearly half the land in the Western states. Control is the issue. Residents depend on those lands not just for fishing and hunting, but also for their livelihoods. That’s hard for Easterners to imagine. In Connecticut and New York, the federal government owns less than 1% of the land.
During the 1990s, the federal government hiked grazing fees and imposed new restrictions on range lands that made cattle ranching next to impossible. Many ranchers pulled up stakes.
Bundy, who raises cattle about 80 miles north of Las Vegas, held on but stopped paying grazing fees. He also refused to vacate lands that the federal government declared off limits to ranchers in order to protect an endangered species of desert turtle.
Rural residents see the federal BLM making ranchers extinct in order to protect fragile species from extinction at the behest of the Sierra Club and other powerful interest groups.
It’s happened before. In the 1990s, federal agencies drove lumbering out of vast areas of the Pacific Northwest in hopes of saving the northern spotted owl. Another species of owl moved in to replace the fragile one, as often happens in nature, but by then the damage to local communities dependent on logging was done. Thousands of forestry workers had lost their jobs and timber mills had shut.
It’s politically incorrect to question how much is spent saving an owl, but Washington questions spending money on Grandma’s hip replacement.
… But Not Cows
Childers captured the cruelty of letting Washington bureaucrats decide which of God’s creatures deserve protection. When the BLM agents seized Bundy’s cattle, it was calving time. They left behind day-old and week-old doggie calves, explains Childers. The agents “didn’t even bother to pair them up. Their moms aren’t with them anymore,” said Childers.
“Imagine what is happening to those doggie calves,” he went on, with no one to feed them. “They give a darn about these turtles and give a damn about these mustangs. Did God not create the cow?”
Congress needs to step in and provide local residents of the West with the same degree of economic self-determination and freedom that Americans in the rest of the nation enjoy. Seven Western states recently enacted laws calling for control over public lands. This is a vain effort because states lack the legal authority to enforce it and have been rebuffed by the U.S. Supreme Court in the past. Only Congress can act.
About 20% of the federal lands in the West are important national parks, recreation resources or Department of Defense assets that should remain under federal control. But Congress should liberate the rest of the land.
That means turn it over to the states. Much of this land has gas and oil reserves that will be developed far faster once they are out from under federal control, providing jobs to local workers and energy independence to the nation.
Most important, Westerners should not be treated like residents of an occupied territory, pushed around and disrespected by the big landowner in Washington, D.C.