ALBUQUERQUE — LIKE a rerun of a bad Western, the battle over ownership of America’s public lands has revived many a tired and false caricature of those of us whose livelihoods and families are rooted in the open spaces of the West.
With a script similar to one used last spring by the Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, a small contingent of opportunistic politicians is vowing to dispose of America’s national forests, conservation lands and open space. You may remember Mr. Bundy, whose refusal to pay more than $1 million in overdue grazing fees instigated a dangerous standoff with law enforcement officials. The confrontation made him the face of what some say is a renewed Sagebrush Rebellion to turn over America’s public lands to state control.
Mr. Bundy does not represent the West, however. And the campaign to transfer to the states or even sell off our shared lands should not be mistaken for the mainstream values of Westerners whose way of life depends on the region’s land and water.
Utah was the first state to embark on this course. In 2012, the state’s Republican governor, Gary Herbert, signed a law demanding (though unsuccessfully so far) that the federal government transfer to the state more than 20 million acres owned by United States taxpayers. This included national forests and grasslands and such jewels as Lake Powell and the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area.
In turn, the legislatures in Idaho, Montana, Nevada and Wyoming have created task forces to study the idea, though similar efforts in Colorado and my home state of New Mexico have thus far failed.