The Continuing Federal Land Grab

By Michael Swartz

The use and abuse of the Antiquities Act, legislation which dates back to the time of Teddy Roosevelt, is nothing new. While the bulk of the national monuments so created came in the first few decades after the Act’s 1906 adoption, the practice of creating them was again accelerated with President Carter creating 15 national monuments out of Alaskan territory in 1978. By doing so he throttled the resource development of these areas and angered local officials who wanted Washington’s hands off the land.

In recent times, the usage of Antiquities’ declarative power has been almost strictly a Democratic practice – by comparison, neither Ronald Reagan nor George H.W. Bush used the Antiquities Act in this manner during their terms and President George W. Bush did but twice. President Clinton established a total of 19 national monuments, mainly as he was preparing to leave office in 2001.

Vermillion Basin (Source: Bureau of Land Management)

But a recently leaked internal memo from the Department of the Interior (DOI) detailing thirteen new prospective national monuments may show that President Obama is interested in continuing the recent liberal environmentalist practice of locking resource-rich lands away from development. In fact, this very reason is cited in the memo to preserve Colorado’s Vermillion Basin, a “unique high desert basin (which) is currently under threat of oil and gas development, which would forever alter the region.” Other areas are cited as “critical long-term movement corridors for…wildlife” or “pristine desert wilderness landscapes.”

Once word got out about the proposed land grab the DOI backtracked, calling the memo a product of a “brainstorming session.” But it shows the attitude that placing land off-limits to development and perhaps a higher and better usage is more important to some than the benefits the resources on or underneath the land may provide. The land hasn’t changed perceptively since the previous administration left the White House, but the bureaucrats who have been itching to turn the West back into the wilderness it once was by creating “migration corridors” or placing areas out of reach for human interaction had to wait until they had an ally in the White House to again make their move.

Needless to say, a number of Congressional representatives from western states are unhappy. Their cause was led by Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah, who is credited with making this DOI memo public.

Their biggest concern is the potential lost revenue for state and local governments, who already deal with the burden of hosting a huge percentage of federally-owned land within their borders. West of the Great Plains, the federal government owns at least 30 percent of the land mass in every state but Hawaii, with Nevada leading the way – the federal government owns over 4/5 of Silver State land. Aside from those twelve states, only three others have more than ten percent federally owned land with most of the rest checking in at five percent or less. Overall, Washington bureaucrats own about 30 percent of our total land mass but apparently would like to take millions more acres through Presidential mandate.

The DOI’s evaluation seemingly fails to ask how placing areas off-limits is going to affect job creation and local economies, and may not be considering the financial ramifications of taking care of the land once acquired. If areas have unique and wondrous features it’s doubtful that the public will want them to remain hidden from their view.

It seems the only thing hidden from public view is the process and perhaps that’s intentional, knowing the outcry from affected states and individual landowners would be deafening.

Michael Swartz, an architect and writer who lives in rural Maryland, is a Liberty Features Syndicated writer.

8 Responses to “The Continuing Federal Land Grab”

  1. “Overall, Washington bureaucrats own about 30 percent of our total land mass but apparently would like to take millions more acres through Presidential mandate.”

    Its already federal land. Its already federal land. Its already federal land.

    “The DOI’s evaluation seemingly fails to ask how placing areas off-limits is going to affect job creation and local economies, and may not be considering the financial ramifications of taking care of the land once acquired.”

    It is not a 'land grab,' there are not new federal lands being acquired (which don't belong to DC bureaucrats but all Americans, current and future generations. Have you been to Vermillion Basin? I have. Oh, its already federal land.

    Have I made myself clear?

  2. In other words, Oliver2, you like federal land grabs that lock up land so no one can put it to any worthwhile use.

    Thanks for clarifying that.

  3. Bob

    Since Yellowstone is a federal land grab, should it be given back to be developed?

  4. I'm willing to consider it.

    However, this is the key question in setting aside huge plots of land: is there something truly unique and spectacular about the area that compels preservation? Here is another: IS the primary reason for the setting aside of the area preserving a unique and spectacular geographical area…or is it simply a desire to deny others the use of the area? And still another: can natural resources in the area be harvested/utilized without destroying the area?

    Yellowstone is obviously–even to someone who has never been there–a very unique and spectacular area. Most of the areas set aside in the past 20 years, however, are pretty unremarkable and have few unique features that compel the setting aside of huge tracts of land. What's more, most of these have been pretty apparent land grabs that are done with the primary intent of denying oil and mineral companies the opportunity to harvest natural resources there–whether this can be done with minimal impact or not.

    In many cases, any unique features in these areas are small in size and could themselves be set aside without resorting to locking up thousands or millions of acres the vast majority of which are less exciting than my back yard.

    The same is true of the amount of land required to harvest natural resources in these areas. In many cases, only a few acres are needed to harvest the resources, yet because the area in question is within a larger preserved areas, we are not allowed to make use of these resources.

    A perfect example of this insanity is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska. Huge oil reserves rest beneath this area, and only a small area of land would be required to harvest this oil…but Marxist extremists are determined to deny anyone the use of the resources contained within this desolate and unremarkable area. Some pictures taken by Chris Lein that I published a couple of years ago illustrates how asinine this entire approach is:

    The earth was created for humanity to use, not to enshrine and worship. Common sense indicates there are unique geographical features which merit preservation, but common sense also indicates that most of the areas that have been enshrined in recent decades are not being preserved for aesthetic reasons but rather simply to deny a despised party the use of these areas.

  5. Federal land is owned by We the People, not some environmental or power-hungry twits in D.C. The states could take and use the land – if they wanted to.

    I think Bob Ellis is correct.

  6. Steve You are right. The land is owned by 'we the people' . The people elect their government representatives who in turn go to Congress and vote on whether or not to drill in this area. Lets not, however, run around and shout at conservation groups, environmentalists, the 'other' political party as the evil, Marxist extremists who are responsible for this. It is the fault of those who want to drill for not having elected enough representatives that agree with them to get their agenda done.

    My point is that they have only themselves to blame. Only ' we the people ' to blame

  7. That's a great point, Brian! “We the people” have been out to lunch while the extremists you mention have changed the locks and locked out of our own home.

    But I'm a-thinkin' and I'm a-hopin' that finally the “We the people” are awake enough and fired up enough to pick the locks and toss these Marxist squatters out on their collective hind parts this year. If we don't get in this year, we may never get back in.

  8. I think you are right. I think many, many Americans have forgotten or have never been exposed to what bad food tastes like.They now have gotten a taste and I think realize it's not very good and can make you sick.