Land transfer would be a process, not a grab — Sutherland Soapbox, 12/9/14

Flying_birds_at_Sacramento_National_Wildlife_RefugeThis post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. The podcast can be found at the bottom of this post.

You’ve probably heard by now that the Utah Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office came out with a report last week detailing the potential impacts of transferring about half of all federal lands here to state control.

This is an issue because people all over the West are feeling the pain of being cut off from the land they love — and need — whether to make a living or recreate … and just to live a happy and fulfilling life.

And the truth is, the only one cutting off access to public lands right now is the federal government. Unless you’re young, wealthy, and healthy enough to get the gear and time to trek in, you’re seeing your access reduced by either regulatory and legal hurdles, or actual chains being put up across roads and trails.

These policies are being forced on us by people in far off Washington, D.C., who know nothing of the rural production economy … what it makes, how it runs … or the families who choose to live and work in it.

These D.C. landlords serve a different master and have different priorities. They’re an interest group as powerful as any in the nation, but funded by you. And their interests don’t match those of the people who live and work on the lands they manage.

The Utah report weighs in at around 800 pages, so I can’t even do a fair job of summarizing it in the four minutes I’ve got here. But its conclusion – arrived at by economists and scientists from three Utah universities – is that, yes, Utah can manage those lands in an economical and balanced way without sacrificing the beauty of the state, its quality of life, or its attraction to tourists and recreationists from around the world. And it can even turn (trigger alert, I’m going to use a word that some in the environmental activist community might find offensive and cause the vapors) [Utah can turn] a profit to help pay for other state needs in the process.

Cue the hue and cry from the for-profit environmental movement. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and Center for Western Priorities, apparently after reading their own press releases instead of the actual study, immediately responded with boilerplate talking points and cherry-picked data respectively in their attempts to discredit the report.  Read more

Feeling pushed by lands ‘poll’? Sutherland Soapbox, 10/21/14

Nature's_SymmetryThis post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.  

For those who have ever wondered what a “push poll” looks like, the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank that’s up in arms about the West’s movement to transfer most federal lands to state control, provided a great example a couple of weeks ago.

Their poll clearly demonstrated, at least in their minds, that a majority of Westerners oppose turning over the 50 percent of Western lands that D.C. currently owns to state control. You can see a summary of it here.

This one-sided poll was crafted to support a specific outcome by asking leading questions of very few people across a wide swath of states. Shocking, I know. If either the Center for American Progress or the polling companies involved were capable of being embarrassed, they would have enough red on their faces to paint a barn. But as their purpose was simply to advance a point of view, I’m sure they’re basking in the light they’ve stolen from the rest of us. The world is just a little dumber for their efforts, and while both the left and right are guilty of dishonest polls to either push a viewpoint or raise a buck, this is a particularly egregious example.

The axiom that you get what you pay for is especially true in the polling business, where the wording of a question can lead to desired responses that campaigners can then tout as a “The people have spoken” moment. This poll basically asks people if they would rather see state taxpayers pay for the rape and ruin of public lands or have those lands munificently managed by benevolent federal cherubs gently tending the flora and fauna as they glide effortlessly — and at no cost to the taxpayer — overhead.

Here’s the question they’re most proud of:

Thinking about one idea related to national forests, national parks, wildlife refuges, and other national public lands in your state, would you support or oppose having your state Government and taxpayers assume full control of managing these public lands, including paying for all related costs, including the cost of preventing and fighting wildfires?

Got all that? Read more

The difference between dueling lands polls? It’s education

Panorama_of_the_Great_Salt_Lake_DesertTwo recent polls on federal versus state lands management preferences have seemingly contradictory findings. In fact, they demonstrate one key point: The more people know about the costs and benefits of transferring federal lands to state control, the more they tend to endorse it.

A Center for American Progress poll released late last week claimed that 52 percent of those polled in eight Western states did not want their state to assume control and costs of public lands managed by national resource agencies. But the poll notably omitted any reference to potential benefits of states assuming control and instead listed only potential costs and controversial potential management policies.

Also of note, Utah bucked the apparent trend, with a 52 percent majority expressing a desire for state control. And that finding was echoed in another poll, released earlier this week by, that asked simply whether that state’s residents supported or opposed state government taking control of BLM and Forest Service lands. Sixty percent of respondents supported state control of BLM lands, and 50 percent approved of taking over Forest Service lands in that poll. Fifty-four percent also supported a lawsuit against the federal government to demand control of those lands.

The difference seems to be that Utahns have been grappling with the state control issue for several years and are therefore much more educated on the costs and benefits of the state potentially assuming ownership of most federal lands. They know, for instance, that only multiple-use lands are being considered, leaving national parks, wilderness areas and military reservations in federal hands. They also know that these multiple-use lands can generate income to offset the expenses of managing them. Neither poll addressed these issues, but they have been widely debated in the state since passage of the Transfer of Public Lands Act in 2012.

Taken individually, these polls seem to have contradictory results. But the take-away from examining both of them together is simply that the more people know about the costs and benefits of transferring multiple-use federal lands to state control, the more they approve of it.

Carl Graham in the Heritage Insider: The West's Fight for Self-Government

Sutherland-Coalition-Self-Govt-Logo-200The federal government owns nearly half of all land west of Nebraska, and it is increasingly using that ownership to cut Western states off from the natural resources and tax bases they need to take care of themselves. National polls show a lack of trust in the federal government and a growing reluctance to accept its expanding power. But the one-two punch of resource ownership and the flow of federal funds gives the federal government a seemingly free hand to dictate how Western states educate their kids, manage their economies, and provide core public services. In effect, they are becoming states of dependence.

Many of these states are pushing back to restore a balance between individual and states’ rights and responsibilities on one hand versus the federal estate and federal government intrusions on the other. But this Western backlash against federal overreach could also ripple across the country and help set the tone for Americans’ future relationships with their federal overseers.

Much of the growth in federal power is being done under the aegis of cooperative federalism, where the federal government basically buys the rope and lets the states hang themselves. Many Western states would like to get rid of that rope by asking a very simple question: Why not govern ourselves? Why accept being states of dependence?

Just imagine if America could restore that proper balance and make government more accountable by bringing it closer to home; if we could have a servant instead of a master, a government that works for us, not against us. Imagine being able to decide our future; to figure out how to best educate each of our kids, how to steward our lands, and to provide for our public safety and services using local solutions that take into account local resources and local needs rather than imposed or one-size-fits-all dictates.

But increasing federal power doesn’t allow us to govern ourselves, and we can get an idea of who is most at risk by looking at who’s manning the barricades against overreaching and often counterproductive federal policies. The West is the proverbial canary in the coalmine as the federal government is able to impose more of its power and create greater dependence by controlling access to Western resources.

That’s why you see Nevada ranchers getting on their horses and riding to the district Bureau of Land Management offices to protest new grazing restrictions. It’s why ATV riders in Utah are protesting trail closures on public lands that they have used responsibly for generations. It’s why county commissioners in New Mexico are threatening to break locks—installed by federal officials—that block access to water that ranchers have used responsibly and improved since before New Mexico was even a state. And it’s why Utah certified public accountants called upon the legislature to get a better handle on the inherent risks of depending on federal funds to perform core state functions.

The primary vulnerability to federal overreach in the West is the states’ lack of control over their own resources. The primary driver for that lack of control is the simple fact that they don’t own the land those resources are on and under. Fifty percent of all land, over 600 million acres, west of the Colorado/Nebraska line is owned by the federal government, making up 91 percent of all federal lands in the nation. That’s enough land to cover every state on the Eastern Seaboard, plus Kansas, plus Texas, plus France. That’s just unfair: Western states are cut off from 50 percent of their tax base and have little say over 50 percent of their economic potential, just because they came to the Union later in our nation’s history.

Click here to read the rest of this article by Carl Graham at the Heritage Foundation’s InsiderOnline. It was also printed in the summer 2014 edition of the Insider.

Tonight: Watch debate on land use

We invite you to watch this debate tonight on a topic vital to our state: the potential transfer of public lands from federal to state control.

If you live in the Cedar City area, feel free to attend in person. The debate starts at 6 p.m. at SUU’s Sterling R. Church Auditorium at Sharwan Smith Student Center.

Otherwise, click here for the live feed. See the flier below for more details.
alc lands debate flier


Trouble in the West

Montana's Rocky Mountain Front is seen at the right in this aerial photo. (Photo credit: Bobak Ha'Eri)

Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front is seen at the right in this aerial photo. (Photo credit: Bobak Ha’Eri)

The “green-über-alles” crowd has Utah and our neighbors in its sights. For instance, take this editorial from a Montana newspaper (republished by Utah.Politico.Hub), “Big Trouble in Big Sky Country.”

This “big trouble” – referring to tactics used by radical environmentalists who demonize multiple use of our beautiful Western lands – doesn’t just apply to Montana, but to all the states in the West. From the editorial:

When public support for the [1964] Wilderness Act tanked, enter the manipulation by environmentalists. Greens both inside and outside government have turned to an onslaught of other means to control and/or remove land uses they dislike — through appeals, litigation, administrative fiat, bureaucratic delay, endangered species, conservation easements, even national monument designation under the Antiquities Act.

The strategy is to block land uses in hopes the land users go away.

Click here to read the rest of the editorial at Utah.Politico.Hub.

Podcast: the states vs. the feds on public lands

Sutherland-Coalition-Self-Govt-Logo-200Listen to Carl Graham, director of Sutherland’s Coalition for Self-Government in the West, in a podcast about control and use of public lands. Utah state Rep. Ken Ivory, Donald J. Kochan of Chapman University School of Law, and David Garbett of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance also participated in the teleforum, sponsored by The Federalist Society, earlier this week.

Here’s a description of what they tackled during the teleforum:

The state of Utah now has statutory authority to sue the federal government for return of its lands in January, 2015. How sound is the legal case, and what are the economic implications for the Western states – as well as the country in general? What are the environmental policy issues and is state stewardship of these lands best?

Click here for the podcast at The Federalist Society website.

Bundy family: Right issue, wrong argument – Mero Moment, 4/15/14

Sutherland is focused on helping western states regain control of their land. Visit for more information.

Sutherland is focused on helping western states regain control of their land. Visit for more information.

This post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

Cliven Bundy’s family roots in Nevada stretch back to the 1880s but his awkward articulation of constitutional rights and federalism are hurting his case and the broader case for greater self-determination in western lands management. Our western states are severely handicapped by the federal government’s ownership of massive amounts of land. It is true. And it is high time that citizens in these western states do something about it. Unfortunately, Cliven Bundy’s justifications and methods are politically counterproductive and legally, well, wrong.

Our western states have plenty of tragic examples where federal encroachment is destroying economic prosperity and driving generations of families from the lands they’ve called home. Bundy’s mistake is that he’s shifted the focus from that legitimate argument to arcane constitutional polemics that few Americans understand or are comfortable with.

In complaining about the federal government to entertainment conservative Sean Hannity, Mr. Bundy stated, “What they have done is seized Nevada statehood, Nevada law, Clark County public land, [and] access to the land….” To The Guardian newspaper he’s quoted as saying, “We definitely don’t recognize [Bureau of Land Management] jurisdiction or authority….” During an interview on the radio program “The Dana Show,” Mr. Bundy told listeners, “I abide by all of Nevada state laws. But I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing.”

Well, he’s wrong. And even if he were right, he’d still lose with that argument. Read more

The downside (we hope) of hubris

Detail of "Echo and Narcissus," by John William Waterhouse.

Detail of “Echo and Narcissus,” by John William Waterhouse.

Hubris  (hju·bris)  1. pride or arrogance 2. (in Greek tragedy) an excess of ambition, pride, etc., ultimately causing the transgressor’s ruin.

Or, if you’d like a different definition:

Headline: “Interior secretary says Obama may bypass Congress on monuments”

And not to beat a dead horse, but hubris basically means knowing you’re right, that everyone else is wrong, and that you’re justified in breaking the rules if they get in the way of what you want. Rules, after all, only apply to people too unsophisticated to know what really matters; and when you’re super smart and have perfect knowledge the rules need not apply to you. The right course of action is self-evident to the enlightened few. Just ask Narcissus or Niobe or any of those other old Greeks who judged themselves equals to the gods.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell personifies this notion of ultimate knowing when she takes a kernel of truth and turns it into a cob of policy by selectively reading a law, and then interpreting it to fit what she has already determined is “right.”

I know that’s become the norm with this administration, from selectively enforcing immigration and marijuana laws to deciding which parts of Obamacare matter in the political moment, but it’s the definition of hubris to claim they know better than everyone else – and especially those who were sent to represent the people – what’s best by golly and if we have to bend the rules to shove it down the rubes’ throats they’ll thank us in the end. Or maybe they won’t. Who cares? We’ll have shouldered our burden of taking care of flyover country.

So what about bypassing Congress and unilaterally declaring new monuments? Section 2 of the Antiquities Act states:

The President of the United States is authorized, in his
discretion, to declare by public proclamation historic
landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other
objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated
upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government
of the United States to be national monuments and may reserve as a part there of parcels of land…

This presidential prerogative has been used since the early 20th century to put brass plates on buildings, fences around battlefields, and variously preserving other items at little cost to treasuries or freedoms. But what Jewell and so many others leave out in their quest to preserve enormous tracts of otherwise usable land is that Section 2 goes on to say:

…the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.

“The smallest area compatible” was clearly never meant to mean entire counties, as it has been used lately in designating areas as monuments. That’s what the Wilderness Act does, along with national parks, national forests, and other designations that clearly apply to vast tracts of land.

But of course those actions also clearly require the approval of Congress. Well, not really since the invention of wilderness study areas and things like that. But those equally suspect set-asides just reinforce the point that some people want to bypass the inconveniences posed by our Constitution to impose what they know is “right”: That’s hubris.

In the Greek tragedies, those humans who took on god-like senses of self-worth were eventually brought down to size by the very gods they sought to imitate. Now let’s not get crazy. I’m not comparing Congress or even public opinion to any gods – ancient Greek or not; but let’s hope the hubris of this administration and its allies meets a suitable fate and they come to realize they’re not smarter than the rest of us just because they’re temporarily (I hope) in power, and that the rules apply to them as much as to the rest of us poor rubes in flyover country.

Feds broke a promise to Utah on land ownership

Why did the federal government keep so much land in western states while giving eastern states nearly all their land?

Why did the federal government keep so much land in Western states while giving Eastern states nearly all their land?

The following post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

When the Utah Legislature passed the Transfer of Public Lands Act (TPLA) in the 2012 general session, it did so for good reasons. The act was a response to 116 years of federal neglect for lands entrusted to it but never returned to Utah. The result is that the federal government owns over 60 percent of the land in Utah. The same is true for several Western states.

The real question is why?

Every state joining the Union did so through a contract with the federal government called an Enabling Act – every state has one and nearly all are identical in this one respect: Each Enabling Act contains the following language,

[T]he people inhabiting said territory do agree and declare that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within said territory….

That’s pretty clear, isn’t it? “Forever disclaim all right and title”? That means each state gave up its claim to lands now claimed by the federal government. The problem is that Midwestern and Eastern states have Enabling Acts containing the same language. In fact, I just read from the Enabling Act of Nebraska and the federal government owns only 1 percent of its land. Alabama, Louisiana, the Dakotas: Each have the same “forever disclaim” language in their Enabling Acts. And, yet, the federal government has claim to only 2.7 percent, 4.6 percent, 3.9 percent and 5.4 percent of the land in those states, respectively.

Again, why is the West treated differently? Why does the federal government own over 60 percent of the land in Utah?

Read more