Tuesday, January 05, 2016
The Oregon standoff is far bigger than a group of armed men in a refuge
They say the federal government stripped them of their land and resources. And they’re not alone.
The weekend occupation of a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon may seem like the ravings of a small group of armed activists, but it belongs to a much larger movement in the western United States. Lawmakers in at least 11 states have in recent years explored the possibility of taking back federal land in their own way: through their state legislatures.
Before this weekend’s incident, and before the Cliven Bundy confrontation in Nevada in 2014, there was Utah’s H.B. 148. In 2012, Utah passed that bill into law, requiring the federal government turn over the public lands within the state. The law carried little force — the end-of-2014 deadline for the transfer came and went — but it signified the start of a new chapter in the four-decade fight over Western land.
At the time, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) described it as a necessary step.
“This bill creates a mechanism to put the federal government on notice that Utah must be restored to its rightful place as a co-equal partner,” he said in a signing statement. “The federal government retaining control of two-thirds of our landmass was never in the bargain when we became a state, and it is indefensible 116 years later.”
Proponents of the movement say it’s about local control and taking back what rightly belongs to state residents.
Critics fear that reclaiming public land could become a financial burden for states and may be the first step toward the land being sold off or otherwise losing its protected status.
The fight itself stretches back to the passage of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, which confirmed the policy of federal retention of public lands. Since then, lawmakers throughout the West have pushed back against the lack of control over land within their borders, including during the famous “Sagebrush Rebellion” of the 1970s and 1980s — a movement that counted Ronald Reagan among its supporters.