Summit on Transfer of Public Lands Back to States – Been Done Before, Numerous Times

On Friday February 18, 2014, nine states met in Utah’s State Capitol to decide how to take their state’s public lands back from the Feds. Utah House Speaker Becky Lockhart said at one time, 90 percent of Illinois lands were in “federal ownership;” point being, change can happen.


To understand the seriousness of the problem, Nevada has only 13 percent of land surface privately owned, to provide tax revenue. Some counties, Mineral, Nye and White Pine have only four percent of land available for a tax base to provide for schools, hospitals and roads, etc.

Those attending the summit are listed below with percentages of federally owned land held by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the National Forest Service (NFS), excluding the Department of Defense and other agencies such as Agricultural Research Service, Bureau of Reclamation, Department of Energy, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which boosts the numbers upward:

Arizona (32%), Idaho (60.5%)Montana (26.5%)Nevada (76%)New Mexico (29%), Oregon (46%), Utah (70%), Washington (23%), Wyoming (30%).

Not attending: Alaska (25%), California 35%, Colorado (34%).

The percentages for total federal holdings can be found here.

The problem: federal ownership locks up access to mineral resources, strips them of revenue and shreds their autonomy when it comes to control of their own house. (No revenue = no taxes paid on lands where nothing is produced or privately owned.)

Many Western states were treated unequally when they joined the Union. Unlike Eastern states, Congress reserved vast amounts of federally owned land in the “Enabling Acts” for statehood in the West. Article 4, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution requires an act of Congress to create a state. Keeping the majority of land in federal control seems in conflict with the very concept of statehood. The second paragraph of Section 4 appears to authorize this bizarre practice. But on closer inspection, that is far from clear. Source: BizPacReview

Broken government promises may trump state’s rights.

“[T]hat requirement, and any attempt by Utah in the future to enforce the requirement, have a high probability of being declared unconstitutional,” the state Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel noted in its review. Source: Washington Post

Unconstitutional? Huh-uh.

As much as 90% of all lands in Illinois and Missouri (and Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, Indiana, Florida) were federally controlled for decades.

With so much land under federal control, these States persistently argued they could not:

● adequately fund education
● grow their economies, or
● responsibly manage their abundant resources

They banded together, refused to be silent or take “NO” for an answer, and compelled Congress to transfer title to their lands.

In 1959, Congress granted directly to the State of Hawaii (the last and western-most State):

“the United States’ title to all the public lands…within the boundaries of the State of Hawaii, title to which is held by the United States immediately prior to its admission into the union.” Source: America Lands Council and here.

In 2012, long before the Bundy Ranch federal cattle round-up, Utah signed into law the Transfer of Public Lands Law which demands that Feds bow out of the state’s public lands under threat of a lawsuit.

Utah: Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) attended the summit. Utah state Representative Ken Ivory said “The urgency is now.”

“The majority of these states have more federal land within their borders than land of their own. It is about fairness.

We believe the states can manage the lands better at lower costs and at greater returns for our taxpayers and our children.” ~ Utah House Speaker Becky Lockhart (R)

Idaho: Speaker Scott Bedke stressed federal mismanagement imperiling watersheds leading to catastrophic wildfires:

It is time states in the West came of age. We are every bit as capable of managing the lands within our boundaries as are the states to our east, those states east of Colorado.

We are burning up each summer in Idaho,” he said, while stressing that state-managed lands in Idaho are faring better, despite parity in lightning strikes and drought impacts.


So does the Democrat [Senator Harry Reid (D-NV] represent the interests of Nevada, or does he put the interests of the U.S. government and the Democratic Party over his own state’s needs?

The Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives would eagerly vote to treat Nevada like a grown-up. Instead, Reid runs the U.S. Senate with an iron fist, to the detriment of his own voters…

It is almost as if Washington, D.C., is treating Nevada like a child that can’t manage itself.

Las Vegas Review Journal, December 2013: Some Nevadans, particularly from the rural areas of the state, have been pushing the idea of a state takeover of federal lands for years…The task force will submit its findings to the Legislative Committee on Public Lands by Sept. 1.


We have to start managing these lands. It’s the right thing to do for our people, for our environment, for our economy and for our freedoms.

“There is a distinct difference in the way federal agencies are managing the federal lands today,” said Montana Sen. Jennifer Fielder, a co-organizer of the summit.

They used they to do a good job, but they are hamstrung now with conflicting policies, politicized science and an extreme financial crisis at the national level. It makes it impossible for these federal agencies to manage the lands responsibly any more.” (Sources: here and here)

The paragraph immediately above describes the reasons Cliven Bundy stopped paying his fees.

My dad did pay his grazing fees for years to the BLM until they were no longer using his fees to help him and to improve.

Instead they began using these monies against the ranchers. They bought all the rest of the ranchers in the area out with they’re own grazing fees. When they offered to buy my dad out for a penance he said no thanks and then fired them because they weren’t doing their job. He quit paying the BLM and tried giving his grazing fees to the county, which they turned down. ~ Shiree Bundy Cox

At statehood, the states were required to add language similar to the following to their constitutions, as a condition of statehood:

Third. That the people inhabiting said territory do agree and declare that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within said territory, and the same shall be and remain at the sole and entire disposition of the United States… Source: Nevada State Constitution

From the American Lands Council:

There are more than $155 trillion in minerals locked up in federally controlled lands and “more recoverable oil” in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming than the rest of the world combined, according to the U.S. GAO.

Read more about the history of states taking back their land at Grumpy Opinions.

Now, no doubt we’ll see the push back from the fed and their lame excuses for keeping vast millions of acres, under the thumb of the U.S. government.

It can not be supposed the compacts intended that the United States should retain forever a title to lands within the States….” ~ President Andrew Jackson, about 1833, five years after the Congressional compact.

There you have it friends. It was NEVER intended that the feds control the majority of the western United States. Time to let the land produce. Time to fund schools with something other than tobacco taxes.

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  • rayhause

    We already know there have been past events involving individuals and the governments over the top type of land grabs as that happened in New Mexico by the National Forest Service. The states taking back their lands would be the best solution. Considering the economic problems so many states are facing, mineral rights as well as just selling the land to individuals with a resulting new tax base would eliminate much if not all of these states debt.

  • Rebecca

    According to my 1996 National Geographic Map of Federal Lands In The Fifty States, the Federal domain covered one third of the nation, over 700 million acres as of 1996…..I have heard that the tax base in Arizona is 17%, but I’ve heard different figures…..The Bureau of Indian Affairs has land also, and the Depts of Energy and Defense have quite a bit. What I am saying is they own even more than most people realize. The battle between environmentalists and the rest of us heated up back when the NG map was made. I guess it is heating up again. It should be. We have energy needs, and the Feds seem determined to keep them from being met.

  • Happy Infidel

    Seems like the south should rebel again and take the west with them..I’m sure with people like Odildo and Diassihole trying to run things most people would support it.

  • nbamron

    I hope something comes of it. We need to stand together if we are to defeat this monsters who have taken over our country.

  • Great post. Note also the land grab doesn’t include state and county owned lands which are substantial in some states.

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  • Enzo

    It looks like the east coast libs want to steal away both the guns and land of the western patriots.