Access to Federal Lands

September 18, 1981

Report Outline
Showdown in Washington
Managing Western Lands
Conflicts Over Production
Special Focus

Showdown in Washington

New Push for Resources Development

Since the frontier closed, the United States has been weighing what to do with a splendid heritage of land in the American West. For nearly a century, the federal government has debated the merits of tapping rich public resources or preserving magnificent wilderness. Now James G. Watt, President Reagan's outspoken secretary of the interior, may be forcing a showdown in the historic conflict between putting the nation's resources to use and saving the land for the future.

The outcome could determine the West's destiny — and influence the whole country's well-being. Over the last 20 years, under Republican and Democratic presidents alike, the government has moved to protect national parks, forests, rangelands and offshore waters from abuse while managing them for multiple uses. Since white settlers moved west, the Rocky Mountain and Pacific Coast regions have produced gold, silver, beef and timber in abundance from federally owned lands and shipped them to the rest of the nation. Now, in the past decade, rising petroleum prices have begun pressuring the government to develop vast reserves of coal, oil shale and other energy resources beneath these lands.

President Reagan took office in January pledging to revive the U.S. economy. Since then Watt has been leading a drive to ease or discard federal land and environmental rules that restrict the use of public resources. Watt, a 43-year-old lawyer from Wyoming who had spent 15 years in the Washington bureaucracy, has promised a “common-sense approach to the use and preservation of these lands.”

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Forests and Rangelands
Land Resources and Property Rights
Oil and Natural Gas