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'Range Wars' Will Continue, Both Sides Say

Whiteout Press
Flickr Creative Commons

An armed standoff between federal land rangers and supporters of a Nevada rancher ended more than a week ago without violence. But observers on both sides say the land-rights controversy will continue.

Carl Graham, director of the conservative Sutherland Institute’s Center for Self-Government in the West, said the Nevada standoff highlights a broader conflict between Western states and Washington. He predicted more states will adopt Utah’s strategy soon to try to force the federal government from lands within their borders.

“Four or five of them at least in 2015 will probably pass bills similar to Utah’s demanding it, and what that’s going to do is continue the political and legal process of looking at the federal lands transfer and who’s best to manage them,” said Graham, speaking on KUER’s RadioWest. “In the end, it’s probably going to be decided in the Supreme Court.”

Graham says the West wants more multiple-use of the 600 million acres the federal government manages --- more than 90 percent of it in western states.

Pat Shea, former director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, told host Doug Fabrizio that lands-transfer advocates misinterpret the intent of the founding fathers.

“We are not to be governed by vigilantes, and that’s exactly what’s going on,” he said. “And when the governor of this state or of another state starts talking about states' rights, they are historically incorrect, when it comes to the constitution, when it comes to federal lands.”

Shea praised the BLM for backing off at the Nevada confrontation earlier this month.

But Dan McCool disagreed. He’s director of the University of Utah's Environmental and Sustainability Studies Program. McCool believes that, because the BLM backed down, critics of government land policies will be emboldened.

“It has now rewarded aberrant behavior,” he said. “So, they now have been incentivized to gather at a moment’s notice, heavily armed, and threaten to murder federal employees. And I just think there’s going to be more standoffs like this.”

McCool said the federal government is making a mistake by not enforcing the law.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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