The Great American Land Heist: Part 4

Today we bring you Part Four 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 Four: What You Need to Know About the Public Land Heist–In Other Words

“The threat is diffuse, but it’s also incredibly real… The idea that this is having no impact and doesn’t matter is just patently false… It’s not like all of America’s public lands are going to be sold to the highest bidder tomorrow, it’s more that it’s burning away at the edges… That said, you don’t wait until your house is on fire to buy a fire extinguisher.” –Tania Lown-Hecht. Communications Director, Outdoor Alliance.

landheist4.jpg

 

If you are sick of my voice by now (and I don’t blame you, if you are) then this is the perfect article for you. In the course of writing these pieces about the public land heist, I did a ton of research. Turns out, lots and lots of very smart people have written about the subject – typically in a far more journalistic fashion than I have. Below, you will see 2400 words of quotes giving you the WHO WHAT WHEN WHERE WHY (WHY NOT) and HOW of the Public Land Heist. This one, you’ve got to read.

***

Who?

Ken Ivory, a Republican state representative from Utah… a business lawyer from suburban Salt Lake City, does not fit the profile of a sun-scoured sagebrush rebel. But he is part of a growing Republican-led movement pushing the federal government to hand over to the states millions of acres of Western public lands — as well as their rich stores of coal, timber and grazing grass…

“’It’s like having your hands on the lever of a modern-day Louisiana Purchase,’ said Mr. Ivory, who founded the American Lands Council and until recently was its president. The Utah-based group is funded mostly by donations from county governments, but has received support from Americans for Prosperity, the group backed by the billionaire Koch brothers…

“In July 2014, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas proposed preventing the federal government from owning more than half of any state’s land. (Five states are more than half federal land, according to a Congressional Research Service report.)”

— NY Times, The Larger, but Quieter Than Bundy, Push to Take Over Federal Land 

“ALEC – not to be confused with the Utah-based American Lands Council (ALC) – is a nonprofit organization founded in 1973 by conservative activist Paul Weyrich that works to push principles of free-market enterprise, limited federal control, and more power for state governments. The conservative policy group based in Arlington, Virginia, whose corporate advisory board includes Exxon Mobil and tobacco giant Altria, is funded largely by the Koch family and is becoming increasingly involved in the land transfer movement by providing bill templates, research and public support to Western legislators.”

— High Country News, How an East Coast Think Tank is Fueling the Land Transfer Movement 

What?

“’The idea of taking over federal property makes for an easy sound bite,’ says David Garbett, staff counsel for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, a preservation group. But, he explains, ‘Every time people look at the arguments, and they have time to think and to evaluate what this is all about, it fails.’…

“No Western state has been as enthusiastic about a landgrab as Utah. In 2012, it passed the Transfer of Public Lands Act, which demanded the feds hand over some 31 million acres, potentially opening them up to even more coal mining and oil and gas extraction…

“An analysis commissioned by the Legislature found that the state would incur huge expenses if it suddenly gained all that land. (Its costs for firefighting on public land would increase sixfold; Ivory has suggested reducing fire risks with more logging.) … Nonetheless, the Utah state Legislature has approved spending up to $2 million to prepare to sue the federal government.”

–Mother Jones, It’s Not Just Militia Members Who Want to Take Over Federal Land

SA 838 is a budgetary amendment which backs support for and funding of state efforts to take over federal land…

“While yes, its language does note that it’s impossible to sell National Parks, National Monuments and National Preserves (which enjoy extraordinary legal protection), it leaves the door open to sell National Forests, Wildlife Refuges and Wildernesses.

“SA 838 passed 51-49. Democrats unanimously opposed it, while all but three Republicans voted for it…”

–Indefinitely Wild, Republican Senators Just Voted to Sell Off Your National Forests

When?

“’(The) Sagebrush (Rebellion) comes into relief as what it really is — a murky fusion of idealism and greed that may not be heroic, nor righteous, nor even intelligent. Only one certainty exists — that Sagebrush is a revolt against federal authority, and that its taproot grows deep in the century’s history. Beyond this, it is incoherent. Part hypocrisy, part demagoguery, partly the honest anger of honest people, it is a movement of confusion and hysteria and terrifyingly destructive potential. What it is no one fully understands. What it will do no one can tell…

“While that sounds like an observation from 2016, perhaps nodding toward the armed occupation of a wildlife refuge in Oregon by the radical fringe of the latest incarnation of the Sagebrush Rebellion, this passage was actually written in 1982 by then-Colorado Governor Richard Lamm…

He referred to the first of three distinct Sagebrush Rebellions of modern times: The first flared up in the mid- to late-1970s; the second occurred in the mid-1990s; and the third began not long after President Obama was elected in 2008. Though the first rebellion had ebbed by the early 1980s, and accomplished none of its big national legislative goals, it did leave a lasting imprint on the West.”

–High Country News, The First Sagebrush Rebellion: What Sparked It, and How It Ended

“Since 2012, the American Lands Council has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to advocate and lobby for the transfer of federal lands to states…

–High Country News, The Taxpayer Money That Fuels Federal Land Transfer Demands

Where?

Utah is the only state to pass a law demanding that Washington hand over federal land to the state. That transfer never happened, so now, Republicans on a state land commission are pressing for a $14 million lawsuit to claim 31.2 million federal acres of canyons, scrub desert and rolling mesas. The state’s attorney general, a Republican, has said he is studying the case and will make a decision about whether to move forward…

“Last year, a Republican state senator from the agricultural eastern plains sponsored a bill to create a Colorado Federal Land Management Commission, to study turning over federal lands to the state…

“Representative Cresent Hardy, Republican of Nevada, whose district includes a ranch run by Mr. Bundy’s father, introduced a measure that would block the government from buying any new land unless it could pass a balanced budget.”

–NY Times, The Larger, but Quieter Than Bundy, Push to Take Over Federal Land

“’It’s a cookie-cutter bill,’ Idaho state Sen. Roy Lacey, a Democrat, says, referring to Idaho’s Abatement of Catastrophic Public Nuisance bill. ‘When you see the same thing being done in Utah and other states, it smacks of ALEC. It’s a toe in the door [of land transfer legislation]: telling the federal government they’re not doing a good job.’”

— High Country News, How an East Coast Think Tank is Fueling the Land Transfer Movement 

“Below here is a list of counties where taxpayers have helped support the American Lands Council’s agenda — whether they know it or not:
Arizona: Apache, Mohave, Navajo, and an organized group of “Eastern Counties”
Colorado: Montrose and Mesa
Idaho: Idaho
Nevada: Churchill, Elko, Esmeralda, Eureka, Lander, Lincoln, Lyon, Nye, Pershing, and White Pine
New Mexico: Otero and Sierra
Oregon: Klamath and Wallowa
Utah: Beaver, Box Elder, Cache, Dagget, Duchesne, Garfield, Iron, Juab, Kane, Millard, Morgan, Piute, Rich, San Juan, Sanpete, Sevier, Tooele, Uintah, Utah, Washington, and Weber
Washington: Ferry, Okanogan, Pend Oreille, Skagit, and Stevens
Wyoming: Big Horn, Lincoln, Natrona, and Weston”

–High Country News, The Taxpayer Money That Fuels Federal Land Transfer Demands

Why?

“Sean Hannity and Fox News… have vested corporate, financial, and political interests in the promotion of Cliven Bundy’s anti-government land ownership agenda…

“Bundy and Hannity’s promotion of state ownership of federal lands gives airtime to an issue that conservatives have long been campaigning for but have had difficulty getting voters excited about — an issue in line with the land  interests of the Koch brothers. Slate reported on April 23 that the Fox News corporate, financial, and political interests being served by Hannity’s promotion of Bundy lie in the network’s connection to the Koch brothers…

“Bundy’s anti-federal agenda is closely aligned with that of Charles and David Koch, major Republican donors who have been pushing for states to gain control over federal lands – so they can be sold or leased to people like the Koch brothers in deals…

“Fox News Network and Sean Hannity have a particular interest in the promotion and realization of such Koch interests because their funding depends on it — Hannity receives major funding and large ad buys from Koch-affiliated Heritage and Tea Party Patriots…

“The Koch-funded Freedom Partners made grants of $236 million in 2011; among many conservative groups its recipients include Heritage as well as the Tea Party Patriots. Heritage Action received $500,000 in 2011 from the Koch brothers through Freedom Partners and additional funds from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. In 2012, the Tea Party Patriots received $200,000 from Freedom Partners…

“Heritage has advocated shrinking the U.S. government’s control by selling its physical assets such as “huge swaths of land (especially out west).” Heritage was also a loyal promoter of the Federal Land Freedom Act of 2013, advocating for the transfer of federal land management to state regulators for energy resource development.”

–Media Matters, The Money Behind Fox’s Promotion of Cliven Bundy’s Battle With the Feds

“In 2013, ALC spent most of its income, about 60 percent, on salaries (40 percent of its total income went to Ken Ivory’s salary, and another 10 percent to his wife’s, according to the ALC’s 2013 tax forms).”

–High Country News, The Taxpayer Money That Fuels Federal Land Transfer Demands

How?

“ALEC has played a role in public lands debates as far back as 1995, when it drafted the “Sagebrush Rebellion Act,” to establish mechanisms for public land transfer to state control, though the act never passed. The Center for Western Priorities estimates that up to six of ALEC’s model policies advocate public lands transfer. Four years ago, ALEC provided model legislation to undermine the Antiquities Act and give states power in designating national monuments. Then in 2015, the organization released a white paper, which it cites regularly for legislators, that concluded states would serve as “superior environmental and economic stewards of select lands within their borders…

“The Center for Western Priorities reported that, of the 36 public lands transfer bills introduced in state legislatures in the first half of 2015, a third were parroting ALEC legislation, either directly using its land transfer model policy or its other model policies, such as setting up land transfer studies or state public lands offices. This year, 14 bills have been introduced, Zimmerman says, and half have already been killed, including a transfer study bill in Washington and two bills regarding public access and land transfer in Wyoming.”

–High Country News, How an East Coast Think Tank is Fueling the Land Transfer Movement 

“The Koch-funded Freedom Partners made grants of $236 million in 2011; among many conservative groups its recipients include Heritage as well as the Tea Party Patriots. Heritage Action received $500,000 in 2011 from the Koch brothers through Freedom Partners and additional funds from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. In 2012, the Tea Party Patriots received $200,000 from Freedom Partners…

“Heritage has advocated shrinking the U.S. government’s control by selling its physical assets such as “huge swaths of land (especially out west).” Heritage was also a loyal promoter of the Federal Land Freedom Act of 2013, advocating for the transfer of federal land management to state regulators for energy resource development.”

–Media Matters, The Money Behind Fox’s Promotion of Cliven Bundy’s Battle With the Feds

Why (Not)

“Grumbling about federal control of local lands is nothing new. But research from the Government Accountability Office and the Congressional Research Service suggests that the federal government is a decent, if inflexible, landlord. Compared with private owners, it tends to charge lower rents for grazing and mining permits

“Some of the land could be sold to individuals, and some has been — the government has sold hundreds of thousands of acres in the last 25 years. But that probably won’t help the protesters. “The ranchers couldn’t afford to buy these lands anyway,” said John Freemuth, a professor of public policy at Boise State University, who studies land-use policy…

“studies have established that there would be substantial administrative costs for states if they took over. And the federal government transfers a lot of its leasing revenue back to states to compensate for the taxes the states might have collected if the land were in private hands. If they owned the land, the states would have to collect rents and administer permits themselves…

“An economic study from Utah in 2012 found that taking over land management would cost the state government a substantial sum: $275 million a year.”

–NY Times, Why The Government Owns So Much Land in the West

The only way states could foot the bill for administering America’s public lands would be to raise taxes or sell or lease large expanses to developers and other private interests, including oil, gas, timber and mining companies.”

–NY Times, The Land Grab Out West



Care for a quick recap? Here you go:

Who: A handful of rich powerful white men.
What: Want to transfer public land from federal to state control.
When: Since the mid to late 1970s til now.
Where: Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Washington.
Why: To make themselves richer.
How: By funneling money into lobbyist groups and politicians, drafting legislation, firing up conservative constituents to pressure their representatives, and tricking everybody into thinking that this is for something other than business… that somehow, it’s going to benefit any of us in the 99%, and the eroding American middle class.
And…
Why Not: Because it’s a freaking horrible idea. It was in the 70s, it was again in the 90s, and it still is now. The states don’t have the budget or infrastructure to manage these lands. The lands need to be managed. If the states have to manage them, they’ll have no choice but to sell them to the highest bidder. The highest bidder is not you, not me, and not Cliven Bundy. The highest bidder is oil, gas, timber, mining, and electric companies. They win, we lose.

 

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