Public lands are a brooding, ever-present omen in the West. Their historic origin goes back to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison’s fascination with the recent French development of precisely measuring land by metes and bounds instead of tree stumps and wandering streams. With their creation of the Cadastral Survey they and other subsequent political leaders began to carve out boundary lines, first for states, then counties, cities and towns. Vast areas, particularly in the West, were left unclaimed, and thus became public lands. Now, in the 21st century, some states like Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming have half of their landmass owned and managed by the federal government. Throughout the 20th century, sagebrush rebels rallied state's rights advocates to call for returning federal public lands to the states. But after two centuries of federal public support of these lands, is it fair to return them wholesale to the states they lie in?
Held March 24, 2017 at the School for Advanced Research, Santa Fe, NM
The federal government owns 28 percent of U.S. land. Utah Assistant Attorney General Anthony Rampton said the major reason for disagreements between rural citizens and government officials regarding public lands is that debates are driven by ideology and not solving problems. The panel recommended improved communication between government agencies and citizens.
Readings on Land Management
- John Freemuth: The twisted roots of U.S. land policy in the West
- John Freemuth: How the Antiquities Act has expanded the national park system and fueled struggles over land protection
- John Freemuth and Mackenzie Case: Can Ryan Zinke balance conservation and development as interior secretary?
- Peter Walker, University of Oregon: Malheur occupation is over, but the war for America’s public lands rages on
- Char Miller, Pomona College: Malheur occupation in Oregon: whose land is it really?
- Headwaters Economics: Federal Lands in the West: Liability or Asset?
- Stanford University: A Spatial History of In-Lieu Programs for Western Federal Lands