Managing Western Lands

April 22, 2016 • Volume 26, Issue 16
Should the U.S. turn over federal lands to the states?
By Barbara Mantel


Armed anti-government protesters listen as their leader, Ammon Bundy (AFP/Getty Images/Rob Kerr/Stringer)
Armed anti-government protesters listen as their leader, Ammon Bundy, speaks to the media on Jan. 4, 2016, during their takeover of federal buildings at Oregon's Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Bundy and 24 others were later arrested. Their demands included giving private owners and local government control of public lands. (AFP/Getty Images/Rob Kerr/Stringer)

Armed protesters who occupied Oregon's Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in January focused national attention on local anger over federal management of public land in Western states. But for several years, a quieter rebellion has occurred in the West, where the federal government owns nearly half the land. In 2012, Utah enacted a law demanding that the federal government relinquish more than 31 million acres of public land in the state, and Arizona's governor vetoed a similar bill. Five Western states have enacted laws to study the issue. Proponents of land transfers say federal mismanagement of public lands contributes to catastrophic wildfires and costs logging, ranching and mining jobs. But opponents say courts settled the federal land ownership issue long ago and that the federal government does a good job of managing public lands under often-conflicting mandates, such as conserving lands and facilitating resource extraction. Moreover, the opponents say if states controlled federal lands they would increase commercial development or sell land to private interests.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Environmental Protection
Jul. 10, 2020  Circular Economy
Nov. 29, 2019  Climate Change and Health
Sep. 20, 2019  Extreme Weather
Dec. 07, 2018  Plastic Pollution
Dec. 02, 2016  Arctic Development
Apr. 22, 2016  Managing Western Lands
Jul. 18, 2014  Regulating Toxic Chemicals
Sep. 20, 2013  Future of the Arctic
Jun. 14, 2013  Climate Change
Nov. 06, 2012  Vanishing Biodiversity
Nov. 02, 2012  Managing Wildfires
Nov. 04, 2011  Managing Public Lands
Aug. 26, 2011  Gulf Coast Restoration
Jul. 2010  Plastic Pollution
Feb. 2010  Climate Change
Jan. 09, 2009  Confronting Warming
Dec. 05, 2008  Reducing Your Carbon Footprint
Nov. 2008  Carbon Trading
Oct. 03, 2008  Protecting Wetlands
Feb. 29, 2008  Buying Green
Dec. 14, 2007  Future of Recycling
Nov. 30, 2007  Disappearing Species
Feb. 2007  Curbing Climate Change
Dec. 01, 2006  The New Environmentalism
Jan. 27, 2006  Climate Change
Oct. 25, 2002  Bush and the Environment
Oct. 05, 2001  Invasive Species
Nov. 05, 1999  Saving Open Spaces
Jun. 11, 1999  Saving the Rain Forests
May 21, 1999  Setting Environmental Priorities
Mar. 19, 1999  Partisan Politics
Oct. 16, 1998  National Forests
Jun. 19, 1998  Environmental Justice
Aug. 23, 1996  Cleaning Up Hazardous Wastes
Mar. 31, 1995  Environmental Movement at 25
Jun. 19, 1992  Lead Poisoning
May 15, 1992  Jobs Vs. Environment
Jan. 17, 1992  Oil Spills
Sep. 20, 1991  Saving the Forests
Apr. 26, 1991  Electromagnetic Fields: Are They Dangerous?
Sep. 08, 1989  Free Market Environmental Protection
Dec. 09, 1988  Setting Environmental Priorities
Jul. 29, 1988  Living with Hazardous Wastes
Dec. 20, 1985  Requiem for Rain Forests?
Aug. 17, 1984  Protecting the Wilderness
Jun. 15, 1984  Troubled Ocean Fisheries
Aug. 19, 1983  America's Disappearing Wetlands
Feb. 22, 1980  Noise Control
Nov. 16, 1979  Closing the Environmental Decade
Oct. 13, 1978  Toxic Substance Control
Feb. 27, 1976  Pollution Control: Costs and Benefits
Nov. 28, 1975  Forest Policy
May 30, 1975  Wilderness Preservation
Dec. 20, 1974  Environmental Policy
Nov. 14, 1973  Strip Mining
Dec. 01, 1971  Global Pollution
Jul. 21, 1971  Protection of the Countryside
Jan. 06, 1971  Pollution Technology
Jun. 19, 1968  Protection of the Environment
Oct. 30, 1963  Noise Suppression
Civil Rights: Native Americans
Climate Change
Crime and Law Enforcement
Energy and the Environment
Forests and Rangelands
Land Resources and Property Rights
National Parks and Reserves
Privatization of Government Functions
Tribal Government