The Great American Land Heist: Part 1

Today we bring you Part One of the Five-Part Series, The Great American Land Heist. For five consecutive days, I will be posting a new article about what may be the biggest threat to the American West since Manifest Destiny.

These articles are meant to inspire action, to stir up resistance, and to make you think. If you like what you read, please, please, sign the petition, write your representatives, tell your friends, and share these articles through your social media channels. 

Part 1: See Through the Ruse. We’re Being Used

“Peddling violent delusions of armed rebellion against tyranny is the last thing that’s going to help a two-parent household in Wyoming make ends meet or a working mother in Montana afford child care.” –Arizona Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, for High Country News.


It’s two in the morning, in Colorado’s South Platte. I’m in the Pike-San Isabel national forest, on a windy ridgetop. I can’t sleep. Fever dreams interweave with memories of to-do lists. There’s this article I want to write. I don’t know where to start.


It’s not a cold sweat, so much as a wet blanket. I look at the stars. To the east you can see the glow of Colorado Springs; to the northeast, Denver. But looking west, there’s not a single human structure as far as the eye can see. The stars. The blackness of night. The hush. I can hear myself breathing, can feel my heart beating. I feel at home.


Elected officials are trying to sell your public lands. Not national parks or monuments, but large tracts of bureau of land management (BLM), national forest, and fish and wildlife land throughout the American west. There are massive amounts of money being funneled into lobbying groups such as the D.C.-based American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and Utah’s American Lands Council (ALC), to push land transfer legislation.

Utah state representative Ken Ivory is the messiah for the public land heist. Of course, he’s just a tool like so many other politicians. If you want to understand what’s happening, follow the money.

The Koch brothers paid Fox News to publicize the Bundy bacchanal in Oregon’s Malheur wildlife refuge. They are turning this economic issue into an emotional one, by getting a bunch of western farmers and ranchers fired up about the “overstepping government”. “Give the land back to the states”, they say. The government is stealing your God-given land.

The Koch brothers want to sell you on the idea that the federal government has too much power over the American west. The pitch is that the American rancher has to jump through too many hoops to graze cattle, and that these lands should not belong to all Americans, but to those who live there. The pitch is that once the lands are safely in control of the individual states, things will somehow be better.

The reality is that the states are not equipped to manage, protect, or oversee these lands. Fire suppression alone costs more than the states can afford. When a fire or a landslide or another natural disaster occurs on these lands, and when the states break their budgets trying to deal, they’ll have no choice but to sell off those lands to the highest bidder, and use the money to fight the disaster.

The reality is that the highest bidder is not the deteriorating American middle class, it is not green liberal vegetarians or their special interest groups, it is not the iconic humble western rancher, it is not a man or a woman with cracked hands and sun and wind worn faces, faded blue jeans, tired sunstricken eyes always looking to the west.

The highest bidder is big business, corporate interests, and politicians who always have, always do, and always will figure out clever ways to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes, by inflaming passions on tangential issues that have little to do with the actual issues at hand.



I have quotes from three separate NY Times articles, three High Country News articles, Mother Jones, the Deseret news, the Salt Lake tribune, Media Matters, senators on both sides of the aisle, on both sides of the subject. I’ve got case studies where they’ve tried giving land back to the states, where it failed, why it failed. I have three pages of detailed interview notes with the Communications Director from Outdoor Alliance –quotes on the record.

But the last thing I want to do here is to add to the mountain of evidence that’s widely available, and still has somehow failed to capture your attention. What I want to do is to grab you by the collar, look you in the eye, and say “listen. This matters.”


It’s two in the morning, in Colorado’s South Platte. I don’t know what to tell you, or how to write this. I don’t know how to make this stick. I hate politics, and I understand if you do, too. The question, then, is how can I make this something other than political to you?


I think you should get out to your favorite haunt as soon as you can. Go there and sleep in the dirt. Look up at the stars, and think about the tenderness of a pitchblack night, shot through with starlight.

Feel the cold wind bight at your face, and think about the feeling of clean cool air.

Listen to the wind, to the wild sounds of the wild world, and think about what the truth they speak.


I don’t care if you like to watch birds or shoot them. I don’t care if you like to hike or ride an ATV. I don’t care if you climb or ranch. I don’t care if you’re a kayaker or a motor-boater. I don’t care if you’re for the red team or the blue.  I don’t care if we agree on everything, or maybe anything. I don’t think we have to.

Because even if we don’t – on this one, we’re all on the same team. We’re still playing the same ball sport. And we’re still subject to the same rigged rules.

The public land heist is not what your people are telling you it is. It is not a battle over states’ rights, and decentralization of an overly-powerful, corrupt, and inept government. It is not a battle over conservation, and deep ecology back-to-the-land greenpeacers.

All of that is a smokescreen, a salespitch, snake oil.

The public land heist is a tired old narrative, and it is one we know well. It is a battle between the very very rich, and everyone else. And that everyone else is you, and it’s me, whether or not we want to agree.

It’s time to see through the ruse. We’re being used.



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