Yes, It’s #BiggerThanBundy—Efforts to Seize Your Public Lands Have Only Just Begun

By Jessica Goad and Steve Pedery. Jessica Goad works for the Center for Western Priorities, a non-profit organization that promotes responsible policies and practices and ensures accountability at all levels to protect communities, land, and water in the American West. Steve Pedery is the Conservation Director for Oregon Wild. For forty years, Oregon Wild has worked to protect the wildlands, wildlife, and waters that make Oregon such a special place.

The star of Cliven Bundy—the Nevada rancher who refused to pay $1.1 million in grazing fees and very nearly incited an armed standoff with the federal government—quickly rose and quickly fell. But, as the media and general public turn their attention to other issues, it’s worth remembering that Bundy’s fringe ideas are mirrored by current efforts in many Western states to seize federal lands--including Oregon.

Despite benefiting from federal public lands where he grazed his cattle for years (a benefit he failed to pay for, even though the fees are absurdly low), Bundy is fundamentally opposed to the idea of the federal government managing places for the benefit of all Americans. As he put it:

"Yeah, it gets back to the ownership of this. Who owns this land? Does the sovereign State of Nevada own this land within their borders? Or does the United States own this land with their borders? If United States owns this land then I guess I’m wrong. But what if this is a sovereign State of Nevada and Clark County, Nevada owns this land?"

Some state legislators and their allies in the American West hold similar views, and continue to endorse Bundy’s state-centric philosophy with hashtags like “#biggerthanbundy” on social media.

Already, a handful of states have passed bills demanding that the federal government turn federal lands over to the states, while others have created “study committees” funded by taxpayers to take a more thorough look at the idea. For example:

Of course, while states seizing federal public lands might be “Bigger than Bundy,” they are also unconstitutional, would be extremely expensive, and are not supported by the public.

Or, as the Los Angeles Times editorialized, “There might be a legitimate political question as to whether the federal government has done a good job of owning and managing so much land. But these reborn Sagebrush Rebellion efforts are a waste of time and taxpayer money and are steeped more in a reactionary embrace of states’ rights than civic leadership. The courts, and the voters, should stand firmly against these expensive distractions.”

We would add that politicians in Oregon, and around the West, should stand firm as well. America would be better served by our elected leaders working to safeguard the legacy of public forests, grasslands, parks, and monuments that began with Teddy Roosevelt, and less on catering to the demands of folks like Cliven Bundy.

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