Western Land Policy

February 3, 1978

Report Outline
Changing Federal Management
Western Land-Law Development
Areas of Continuing Conflict
Special Focus

Changing Federal Management

Discontent in West Over New Controls

An era is closing in the American West. Natural resources, environmental and social concerns are reshaping a region and in the process changing some of its ingrained cultural and economic habits. After decades of inattention, the federal government is tightening its grip on western land, water and energy supplies. New federal resource policies are threatening the land- and water-use arrangements that have been carried on for decades. So far, the impact has been heaviest on ranchers and irrigation farmers. Congress is also considering stricter regulation of western mining, and state officials are struggling for a voice in federally backed energy development.

Westerners long have been fearful of having their destiny controlled in the distant eastern United States, whether by big business or by big government. Their current fear is that western interests—and the West's distinctive character—will be sacrificed to national policies. This fear is not lessened by the knowledge that Jimmy Carter was elected President in spite of winning only one state (Hawaii) west of Texas. Nor is it lessened by the land, water and energy policies that have been adopted during his first year in office. Gov. Dick Lamm of Colorado, a Democrat, said recently that western states “must use our collective political power to insure that the lack of understanding of the West by the federal government is corrected.”

Lamm's comment immediately preceded Vice President Walter F. Mondale's trip to seven western states, Jan. 9–13—a trip to reassure state and local officials about administration intentions and to quell rising political discontent. Mondale was accompanied by Secretary of the Interior Cecil D. Andrus, a former governor of Idaho, whose department has been implementing a host of policy revisions. Through its various agencies, the Interior Department manages large expanses of the West and much of its mineral and water development.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Land Resources and Property Rights
Regional Planning and Urbanization
State, Local, and Intergovernmental Relations