Wyoming Federal Land Grab: What It Means to Utah

The voracious federal land animal, hungry for state lands, has found its newest feed lot. Mid-December, the federal government announced it is stealing a million acres from Wyoming. Land issues with the feds are huge for Utah. After the 1996 Grand Staircase-Escalante land grab, we can empathize.

The Constitution provides for limited federal lands within each state, originally assumed to be about 1- 2%, to be purchased for post roads, forts, arsenals, ect. How is it, then, that the federal government owns 62% of Alaska and 47% of 11 border-sharing Western states, including Utah? (Just a hint: vast oil and mineral reserves exactly underlie confiscated lands.) Federal land theft is a polished art, with federal ownership at 635 million acres, or 28% of available US land, most of it in the West, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Federal land grabs typically create national parks or protected wilderness areas. There is no constitutional authority to do so; parks are a state prerogative, not a national one. Undaunted, the Environmental Protection Agency and its unelected, uninhibited bureaucrats ignore the law. They have now reversed a 100 year old court decision, to give the Wyoming towns of Riverton, Kinnear and Pavillion to the Wind River Indian tribes. These towns will no longer qualify for local and state services if the decision holds after appeals are resolved. That could make local citizens chafe.

The tribes are delighted, as this brings more federal money into their coffers. Their delight is shortsighted; if the federal government can giveth, it can also taketh away in a year or a decade. We would all be safer with a precedent of lawfulness, rather than federal larceny.

Escalante still galls Utahns. In 1996, President Clinton declared 1.7 million acres of Utah a national monument, without public participation or Congressional approval. Strict prohibitions restricted grazing lands, waterways and roads. Environmentalists rejoiced, but if you were among the thousands of citizens who saw their homes, property, livelihood, and family heritage invaded with one press conference, you likely aren’t a fan.

The right to property—what we subdue and bring under our care—is God-given. Environmental issues or not, forcefully taking property use from citizens is lawless. So is preventing citizens from using the bounty of the land they reside on. Resources were given us to use, not admire from a distance. For decades, now, debauched public policy has taken property rights from citizens when the government wants their property. Clinton invoked the 1906 Antiquities Act to quell legal challenges to his brazen act—hardly an example of political courage or ethical behavior.

So, now it’s Wyoming’s turn to dance with the feds over land ownership. The issue has been alive since 1938, though the courts had long since resolved it. Wyoming’s Governor Mead says it’s outrageous that an unelected bunch of bureaucrats can alter a state’s boundaries 100 years after they were legally settled. He said, “This should be a concern to all citizens because if the EPA can unilaterally take land away from a state, where will it stop?” He has a solid point. A review of the proceedings by state officials shows deep flaws—“a host of faulty factual and legal conclusions”—by a federal government acting with a pre-determined outcome. The EPA is not known for its ethics or local sympathies.

Congress has the ability, and the responsibility, to end these constitutional abuses. It can bring regulatory agencies into line, if by no other means than to defund them. That it does not do so indicates that the members of Congress don’t understand their responsibilities, are not serious, or are so busy battling each other within and between party ranks that they do not govern.

In vain we ask, “Where is Congress when we need it to stand up to bureaucratic bullies?” The answer: someplace other than where they are supposed to be.