In October 1980, Gerald Chaffin threw gasoline on his wood-frame home and burned it to the ground. He did it at the behest of the federal government. His crime? The BLM controlled the land on which his home had been located. He was the third owner of the home, which had stood for 37 years to house oil workers. His house, the BLM said, was trespassing. It would have to go.
Three decades later, Americans are still fighting the same battle.
On Tuesday, Texas Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott penned a letter to Bureau of Land Management Director Neil Kornze opposing what he sees as a potential land grab in the northern part of the state by the federal government.
The BLM is apparently considering whether or not to federalize some 90,000 acres of land on the Texas side of the Red River separating Texas and Oklahoma. The BLM says that in 1986, the feds successfully grabbed some 140 acres of land in that area and therefore has the precedent to grab 90,000 more acres. Abbott protested:
I am deeply concerned about the notion that the Bureau of Land Management believes the federal government has the authority to swoop in and take land that has been owned and cultivated by Texas landowners for generations.
The federal government already controls broad swaths of land in most Western states, including nearly 85 percent of Nevada, 70 percent of Alaska, and 60 percent of Utah.
In August 2010, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) released an internal Bureau of Land Management memo exploring new strategies for grabbing territory. The memo stated, “Of the 264 million acres under BLM management, some 130-140 million acres are worthy of consideration as treasured lands. These areas, roughly equivalent in size to Colorado and Wyoming combined, are valuable for their unspoiled beauty…”
The memo suggests that the president should simply designate areas national monuments on his own. The report suggested that Obama essentially shift 12.85 million acres from mixed-use to no-use. 17 areas would be designated as monuments – all in energy-rich areas. As Michelle Malkin observed, “The War on the West is a war on property rights, a war on the economy, and a war on the American way of life.”
In December 2010, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced that it would be designating wilderness lands “wild lands” in order to prevent development on them. That prompted Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA) to state, “This backdoor approach is intended to circumvent both the people who will be directly affected and Congress…”
The federal government has upped the ante in recent months. Just last year, Gov. Gary Herbert (R-UT) filed a lawsuit against Salazar over Salazar’s attempt to have the BLM “re-inventory” public lands to check for wilderness characteristics that would subject them to further regulation. Some 1.6 million acres are “wilderness” in Utah, and the new regulations could, according to Chief Deputy Attorney General John Swallow, affect “tens of millions of acres.” The state of Alaska has joined in the lawsuit as well.
In late 2013, the Environmental Protection Agency simply declared that the boundaries of the State of Wyoming and the Wind River Reservation had changed. The EPA told Wyoming that it would be treating the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone Tribes as a state for purposes of grant funding for air quality, but that it would also be expanding their boundaries. Governor Mead remarked, “I believe the EPA is in the wrong and I will not honor its decision.” The amount of land in question: over 1 million acres.
There is a long history of such land grabs. In 1996, weeks before the presidential election, President Clinton launched his push to grab 1.7 million acres in Utah, supposedly to protect the environment. The House Resources Committee issued a report suggesting something more nefarious at work: an attempt to fence off what was the then the largest undeveloped coal field in the country. Clinton stated, “Mining jobs are good jobs, and mining is important to our national security — but we can’t have mines everywhere, and we shouldn’t have mines that threaten national treasures.” An email from the chair of Clinton’s Council on Environmental Quality admitted, “these lands are not really endangered.”
In 1976, Gerald Ford signed into law the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) that handed 260 million acres over to the control of the federal government. Jimmy Carter doubled down on the Act; according to US News and World Report:
The Carter administration and Congress have placed 37.8 million acres of land in parks, wilderness areas, wildlife refuges and other categories that ban or curtail commercial development. Also, Congress has just approved legislation that restricts development on another 104 million acres in Alaska. Tightened enforcement of federal environmental rules and laws protecting endangered species of wildlife is further shrinking the amount of land available for farming, ranching, mining and timbering.
Ronald Reagan, running for president in 1980, declared himself an opponent of federal control over such a huge amount of land. “I happen to be one who cheers and supports the Sagebrush Rebellion,” Reagan stated. “Count me in as a rebel.”
The Sagebrush Rebellion didn’t succeed. But if Americans, rather than a cadre of unelected bureaucrats, are to control their own destiny, the next one had better.