Uncle Sam Own 48% of Western Land. Why Some Insist This Hurts Economies, Cowboys and Even the Environment

hmdsThe recent standoff at an Oregon wildlife refuge has placed a spotlight on the federal government’s history of obtaining private land, particularly in the Western states. Many imagine that all the federal government owns is several prize national parks and national forests and a select few wildlife preserves in ecologically strategic locations. In fact, the amount of land owned by Uncle Sam out west is almost unimaginably greater than this. The federal government owns a relatively modest if still sizable 4 percent of the land in Eastern states, but it owns 48 percent of the land in Western states. One need not be a fan of either the Hammonds or the Bundy bunch to wonder if it isn’t time to rethink the size of the federal government out west.

Much of the land was simply purchased from willing sellers. But much of it has been seized for vague “environmental” reasons. Those reasons include providing pristine habitats for species of animals that someone, somewhere, believes is lacking in numbers; increasing the size of wetlands; and adding recreational areas. Curiously, sometimes these “recreational” areas are off limits to recreation, including not only ATV riding but even hunting and fishing. It is all done under the vague, innocuous sounding terms of “preservation, recreation and development of natural resources.”

The U.S. Supreme Court held in the far-reaching 1976 case Kleppe v. New Mexico that Congress had vast power to regulate in this area, preempting the states: “The complete power that Congress has over federal lands under this clause necessarily includes the power to regulate and protect wildlife living there, state law notwithstanding.” The court said the regulatory power is authorized by the Property Clause of the Constitution, which states, “Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States.” This decision was the culmination of a gradual broadening of the interpretation of this clause over the last century, despite the objections of many constitutional scholars who believe it goes well beyond the original intent of the Constitution.

Read the rest of the story at The Stream

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