One of the biggest land grabs in American history occurred in 1976, when President Jimmy Carter signed into a law the “Federal Land Policy and Management Act.” That stroke of the pen transferred hundreds of millions of acres of land, located primarily in the western states, into the control of the federal government. In reaction, an alliance of ranchers, farmers, and other concerned citizens – the “Sagebrush Rebels” as they came to be known -- challenged the move and sought to return the land back into the hands of the states. Ronald Reagan, at the time running for president, supported the action of the states. “I happen to be one who cheers and supports the Sagebrush Rebellion,” the Gipper remarked in 1980; “count me in as a rebel.”
Today, the federal government controls nearly 640 million acres of public land (28 percent of the entire United States). In fact, nearly half of all western states (and 62 percent of Alaska) is “owned” by Uncle Sam and controlled by bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.; only four percent of other states fall under federal control. The feud over federal ownership and management of public lands in western states is nothing new. What is new, however, is the propensity of federal agencies to escalate confrontation with ranchers in those areas; most recently seen in the Obama Administration’s arrogant (and near violent) attack on Nevada rancher Clive Bundy. That single incident has reignited the “Sagebrush Rebellion” and pushed western states into action.
Last week, more than 50 political representatives from nine western states met in a legislative summit to begin to seriously discuss how to start the process of transferring federal public lands back to the custody of the states. “We have to start managing these lands,” Montana State Sen. Jennifer Fielder told the press during the summit. “It's the right thing to do for our people, for our environment, for our economy and for our freedoms.”