The media has been paying attention to land issues lately, mostly because of Cliven Bundy’s recent tussle with the Feds.  However, Bundy’s showdown was just a recent – though dramatic – symptom of an underlying problem that’s only now bubbling to the surface.  For example, did you know western states are actually gathering to challenge the federal government’s control of their land?

Brad Knickerbocker of the Christian Science Monitor casts recent events in a historical light:

This dispute over a few hundred cows is an important symbol of a much larger issue that’s been part of US western history since wagon trains brought settlers west along the Oregon Trail.  …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.

Montana state Sen. Jennifer Fielder says federal agencies are so tied up with internal problems, they can no longer manage land responsibly:

They used to do a good job, but they are hamstrung now with conflicting policies, politicized science, and an extreme financial crisis at the national level. It makes it impossible for these federal agencies to manage the lands responsibly anymore.

Lawmakers from eight Western states say they can do better.  “It’s the right thing to do for our people, for our environment, for our economy and for our freedoms,” Sen. Fielder explains.  A bureaucracy 2000 miles away has no business controlling land within the borders of these sovereign states.

Representatives from Utah, Idaho, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming, Oregon, and Washington met in Salt Lake City on April 18 for a “Legislative Summit on the Transfer of Public Lands.”  The federal government owns up to 80% of these states’ land, and they say it’s time to take it back.

Utah passed the “Transfer of Public Lands Act” in 2012, demanding that the federal government transfer public lands back to state control by the end of 2014.  This was part of an agreement between the federal government and many Western states when they joined the Union, so the transfer is long overdue.  Nevada’s law set the stage for a formal showdown with the government if action isn’t taken soon.

Texans are also preparing to resist a federal land grab on the border with Oklahoma, where 90,000 acres of private land are in question.  Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott wrote a letter to BLM Director Neil Kornze, warning that “decisions of this magnitude must not be made inside a bureaucratic black box,” and questioning the legal grounds for such action.  Gene Hall of the Texas Farm Bureau calls it another case of “aggressive overreach” by a well-funded federal agency.

The BLM claims they’re not expanding federal land but merely trying to “ascertain the boundary” between public and private land.  Their plans are based on a 1986 lawsuit where rancher Tommy Henderson lost 140 acres to the BLM.  He received no compensation and says he’s still being hassled today: “They won’t talk to us or be straight with us as to what their plans are …So I have continued to pay for this land or the federal government would seize everything else I had.”

Bundy’s standoff with the BLM is just the latest flashpoint in a longstanding grievance of Western states not being allowed to manage their own land.  It was only a matter of time before an individual standoff like Bundy’s happened, and we’re sure to see more on a state level to come.

Citizens have the right and responsibility to resist when laws are unjust.  The federal government has maintained a stranglehold on these lands for decades, holding back local flourishing in the pursuit of their own interests.  For example, state and local taxes cannot be levied on federally owned land, and local education suffers as a result.

Utah Senator Mike Lee knows this struggle was never just about education, protected species, or the environment, but about the right for citizens to govern their own locales:

This issue is as much about state sovereignty as it is about our state economy.  Utah can manage its priorities – like education, public safety, and health care – much more efficiently than the federal government. But the state needs resources to be effective and Washington is standing in the way.  Utahns deserve the opportunity to use the land how they see fit to improve the state economy, the education system, and our communities.

In other words, the media is only now paying attention to a struggle that’s been going on far longer than the twenty years Bundy has refused to pay grazing fees.  Now that state leaders are taking action to return control of the land closer to home, we’re moving closer to self-governance… one acre at a time.

About The Author

Mark was a co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, and served as the national coordinator. He left the organization to work more broadly on expanding the self-governance movement beyond the partisan divide. Mark appears regularly on television in outlets as diverse as MSNBC, ABC, NBC, Fox News, CNN, Bloomberg, Fox Business and the BBC. He’s highly sought after for the tea party perspective from print and electronic media outlets, from the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, L.A. Times, Washington Examiner, Politico and the The Hill. Mark blogs at, and his opinion editorials regularly run in many of the leading political newspapers both on and offline. Mark has a BA in English from San Diego State University and graduated with honors from University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law in 1988. He practiced real estate and business law for almost a decade. For the last eleven years of his legal career he specialized in Internet advertising law. When not fighting for the future of our nation, Mark is an avid horseman, and lives in rural northern California with his wife Patty and two children.

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