Friday, April 14, 2017

The New Range Wars

Interesting piece by Kirk Johnson by in the Times about the ongoing struggles over Federal ownership of western land:
Now that President Trump is in office, people here and in other parts of the 11 states where 47 percent of the landmass is publicly owned are watching to see what he will do on everything related to public lands, from coal mining and cattle grazing to national monuments and parks. In Burns, some ranchers and others are feeling emboldened, hopeful that regulatory rollbacks by the federal government will return lands to private use and shore up a long-struggling economy.

But the change in administration has also spawned a countermovement of conservatives and corporate executives who are speaking up alongside environmentalists in defense of public lands and now worry about losing access to hunting grounds and customers who prize national parks and wildlife.

In Idaho, for example, a deal to put thousands of acres into private ownership — exactly the sort of transaction that the militia leader brothers, Ammon and Ryan Bundy, had espoused in seizing the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge — was met with fierce opposition, by no less than a group of conservative outdoorsmen.

The deal had been in the works for years and was backed by Republican elected officials, who said that adding new taxable private land would generate business activity and property tax revenue.

But the proposal, to the surprise of many people on both sides, hit a wall with people like Ray Anderson, a machine shop owner in the tiny community of Grangeville, Idaho, who raised money and helped a group of fellow outdoor enthusiasts kill the plan and boot out of office a county commissioner and state senator who had supported it. Mr. Anderson said he feared that Idaho County, rural and in need of cash, would encourage private owners to develop the lands, or put up fences to keep out hunters and fishermen like him.
“I’m a businessman and I’m a conservative, but nothing about the plan seemed to make sense,” Mr. Anderson said. “Where I grew up I was told that public lands will be public lands forever.”

In Montana, access to public lands for recreation shaped last fall’s governor’s race, with the incumbent, Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, staking out a position in defense of public lands and portraying his Republican opponent as captive to private interests that would put up gates and fences. Mr. Bullock won.
The reason that these issues have been generating conflict for a century is that they are complex, with many people and interest groups on each side. Across the west many people feel in a vague way that the government owns too much land and sets too many limits on how it is used. But every particular proposal to actually put some block of federal land into state or private hands has been hugely controversial. Ranchers have long been in the forefront of these fights, but even many ranchers recognize that they benefit from federal ownership. If the land were put up for sale, two-bit ranchers like them would not be the likely buyers; instead it would be snapped up by oil company executives, or else tech or entertainment moguls from the west coast. Even if they could buy the land the tax bill might turn out to be more than they pay in grazing fees. More broadly, a desire to see the land taken out of federal hands cuts against another great western tradition, being able to go just about anywhere. Small town guys like Ray Anderson love being able to hop in their four-wheelers and just drive wherever there is a track or a chance of making one, and private ownership would bring that to a quick end.

Like so many of the other issues we face, I cannot see how this will ever be solved, and I fully expect that these same fights about western land will still be raging long after I am gone.


G. Verloren said...

Oh give me a home where the buffaloes roam
Where the deer and the antelope play
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word
And the sky is not cloudy all day

Home, home on the range
Where the fences and border guards play
Where seldom is heard a non-corporate word
And the sky is industrial gray

Shadow said...

The Las Vegas Review Journal says 85% of Nevada is Fed owned or controlled. This includes military bases, test ranges, navy bases (yes landlocked navy bases -- Fallon), ammunition depots, national forests, wilderness areas, and, I believe, native American lands designated by treaty. Still, Nevada is the 7th largest state in the union and has lots of undeveloped state and private lands and no water, so . . .

You can see a map of it here.

I've been in Hawthorne Nevada, where many of the ammunition depots are just outside of town (if you can call it a town). Very odd sight. Desert everywhere with these nodules extruding out of the ground, also almost everywhere. Those nodules, I believe, are the unburied portions of the depots.

Then there were the A-10s practice bombing over on the right of state 95 as we drove from Vegas to Reno.

Then there is Groom Lake (Area 51) where UFO enthusiasts would gather to watch the strange lights and happenings in the night sky over the base. Why anyone would first conclude those strange sights over a top secret test facility were UFOs is anyone's guess.

G. Verloren said...

@Shadow Flutter

Technically speaking, from the vantage point of those without security clearance to know what they are, they actually are UFOs (Unidentified Flying Objects). They're just not alien spacecraft, is all.

Also, fun little fact - the rise of ubiquitous, high quality cameras carried on everyone's persons pretty much all the time has basically caused the number of UFO reports to plummet off a cliff. Funny, that.

Shadow said...


During the 80's I was at the mall in Vegas with my mom, who was a marathon shopper. It was a few days before Christmas and tired of bumping into people -- I don't do crowds well -- I sat on a bench and perused the masses. Before long this guy sits next to me and strikes up a conversation. "They look like everyone else don't they? You can't tell the aliens from us." Silly me thought he was talking about illegal aliens. But he continued: "the military made a pact with them. In return for not destroying us, the military agreed to capture people and take them to a secret military base where the aliens take over their bodies. Yup, they are slowly taking over the world." My response was "Gotta go now; my mom is waiting." I thought if I stayed any longer I might be asked to join the resistance.