The Transfer of Public Lands Movement: The Battle to Take 'Back' Lands that Were Never Theirs
28 Colorado Natural Resources, Energy, & Environmental Law Review (2018)
77 Pages Posted: 11 Jan 2017 Last revised: 30 Dec 2017
Date Written: February 22, 2017
Long a hotbed of discontent over federal public land management, Utah rekindled the smoldering “sagebrush rebellion” in 2012 when it passed legislation demanding that the federal government turn millions of acres of public land over to the state. Backed by a multi-million-dollar litigation budget, Utah’s efforts became a model for bills that sprang up in Congress and across the West. While unlikely to succeed in the courts, the transfer movement taps into a long history of antagonism over public land management. This discontent, when combined with the threat of litigation, could drive federal legislation devolving the public domain to the states — and that could forever reshape our nation. Alarmingly, disgruntled individuals are also seizing on Utah’s legal theories to justify wresting public lands from the federal government, too often in violent ways.
This article explores the land transfer movement, putting current demands into historical context, critiquing the legal and policy arguments favoring compulsory public land disposal, summarizing the unintended consequences that would flow from public land transfers, identifying the frustrations driving transfer efforts, and offering constructive alternatives to transfer that address the underlying frustrations.
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