Let’s call it a Sagebrush Rebellion counteroffensive.
A mere two weeks after the Utah governor signed a bill demanding the federal government cede thousands of acres of public land to the state, the U.S. Forest Service announces it plans to buy private land in Utah and 14 other states and take it off the tax rolls.
The $40.6 million land grab is being financed mostly from royalty payments from offshore oil and gas drilling, instead of using the money to pay down the public debt.
Though none of the current land purchases include land in Nevada, one runs 180 degrees counter to a bill being pushed by Rep. Mark Amodei to clear up the checkerboard pattern of one-square-mile alternating public and private land holdings created during construction of the transcontinental railroad. Amodei’s bill would transfer public land to private taxpaying ownership.
But in California near the Eldorado National Forest, which is just west of Lake Tahoe, the Forest Service plans to “leverage non-federal funds from threat of private land sale and development” by purchasing private checkerboard squares under something called the Sierra Nevada Checkerboard Initiative. Price tag: $1.5 million.
The Utah land acquisitions add insult to the century-old injury inflicted when the state entered the union under the condition it give up claim to unappropriated land to the federal government.
The recent Utah bill would exempt national parks and military installations and primarily is aimed at acquiring Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management land.
One of the specifics in the bill would take back the 1.9-million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah, which was usurped by President Bill Clinton in 1996.
Now the Forest Service, in a grand thumbing its nose gesture, plans to spend $1.8 million to acquire and unspecified acreage of land near the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. One of its specific aims is to “limit the spread of development,” as if that is one of its duties assigned by Congress.
“In keeping with the Obama Administration’s America’s Great Outdoors conservation initiative, USDA is committed to conserving and restoring our forests and bringing jobs to rural America,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, whose agency is over the Forest Service. “Through our partnerships with states, communities, tribes and others, it is vital that we step up our efforts to safeguard our country’s natural resources.”
Partnership? More like in your face, Utah and Nevada and the West anywhere Washington thinks it knows best.
Instead of giving up land to the states, as various Sagebrush Rebellion efforts in western states have called for in the past half century, the federal government plans to use taxpayer money to acquire still more land on which it can close roads, remove cattle and dispatch still more gun-toting rangers to keep out the citizens of the sovereign states.