After more than a year of travelling the United States and educating thousands on the Transfer of Public Lands legislation, we never cease to be amazed at how many people just assume that the states have no right to their lands. Likely, you have run across the same arguments. Today, we’d like to share with you how you can open people’s minds to the facts in under 2 minutes.
All you need to do is show them a copy of the Federal Fault Line map, and ask the question, “Why?” Ask them, “Why the difference?” The answers don’t vary much. The most common answer people generally give with embarrassment is, “I don’t know. I’ve never really thought about it.” Well, people…it’s time get everyone to THINK about it.
If they have thought about it, the answers they give usually fit into one of two categories. Either:
1) Your lands are so arid/rugged…OR
2) You gave up your lands.
Let’s take a look at these arguments one at a time.
- “Your lands are arid/rugged.”It’s true that much of the west is lacking in moisture and die-hard Jeepers flock here to climb the biggest boulders. AND???? Does that give the federal government the right to just keep it? Does that excuse them from honoring our statehood agreements obligating them to dispose of our lands? I don’t recall anything in our enabling acts that says, “the federal government shall dispose of the land in a timely manner…unless the land is dry…then just keep it.” This more than 200-year-old obligation of Congress to “dispose of” the public lands goes far beyond simply selling the public lands if it is able. Homestead laws were just one of many means by which Congress disposed of the public lands, including granting public lands directly to the States as it did with Hawaii, Michigan and others.
- “You gave up your lands.”This myth is refuted by the fact that states east of Colorado have the same unique “forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands” language in their enabling acts and yet they banded together and compelled Congress to transfer their public lands that it had delayed in disposing of for many decades. This myth is also dispelled by the fact that in 1932 Congress relented to the persistent demand of the public land States and convened hearings for the purpose of “Granting Remaining Unreserved Public Lands to States.” However, the bills most in consideration only proposed to transfer the surface rights to the States and not the minerals. The States flatly rejected this inequitable proposal that would violate the duty of Congress to dispose of all rights within the boundaries of each state not expressly reserved at statehood. As a result of the stalemate, Congress passed the Taylor Grazing Act in 1934 merely as a stopgap measure. As expressed in the very first line of the Act, it was passed “In order to promote the highest use of the public lands pending its final disposal.” In 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously declared that Congress does not have the authority by a subsequent, unilateral policy to alter or diminish “the uniquely sovereign character of [a state’s] admission” particularly where “virtually all of a State’s public lands are at stake.” (For a summary of the constitutionality of the TPLA, read here.)
(For more detailed information on this topic, and a copy of the information we prepared for Western Governor’s Association last week, click here.)
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- Wyoming ranchers see meddling in grazing permits (trib.com)