(or, there is no sagebrush in Florida, yet)
In 1976, the Sagebrush Rebellion began (again) as western Americans began to try to reclaim their supposed constitutional rights (Wald and Temkin 1982). It was quashed largely by the election of Ronald Reagan and appointment of James Watt, but still led to many acts of civil disobedience but also violent anti-government acts (see this review from High Country News). But thanks to Bundy “Patriots” and their supporters, including those who support the Constitutional Sheriffs and Police Officers Association (CSPOA), Sovereign Citizens, skinheads, and neo-Nazis, they are back in a big way. The 2014 showdown on Federal land near the Bundy Ranch in Nevada and the 2016 takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) are just two notable examples.
The effort to put Federal public lands into state (or private) hands is not new, but is more problematic now because of recent developments, not the least of which is its adoption in the 2016 platform of the Republican National Committee. This effort, first supported politically on the national stage by Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah shortly after his election to the US Senate, has now reached vitriolic proportions and has garnered a rabid national following among staunch conservatives. Their arguments for it are patently ridiculous on their face. Among them:
- Too much public land in our state is in Federal hands so we don’t get to generate any tax base. [but…transferring to state ownership also does not put them in taxable status]
- The Feds don’t manage public lands properly [but … how could the states be expected to manage these lands any differently? They have their own land management rules (well, some do, anyway) and laws that must conform to Federal policy]
- Our state should run air, water, and land the way we see fit [but – things move. Land erodes (dust, sediment), water and air move across state boundaries – regulating from within a single state is inefficient, impractical, and unscientific]
- We ought to be able to cut timber, graze, and mine the way Americans always have [but…in the 1800s things were different. Those who argue this also don’t like to see price increases for these rights on Federal lands, where typical rates run 5-10% of “market-driven” rates on private lands. Aren’t they the real laissez-faire proponents or is that saying too French for them?
- We need to return the land to the original inhabitants’ and let them use it the way they feel [but, westerners of European heritage were not here first; American civilizations go back thousands of years before Leif Erickson, Christopher Columbus, or Vladimir Putin]
No matter how you feel about civil liberties, the Constitution, or politics, all of us benefit from rational management of Federal lands. Surely the government has mismanaged the lands in some cases. And private users have also abused the privilege and should be held to account (thinking Bundy here, and others!). But in Harney County, Oregon, citizens and government officials all got together and created a cohesive management plan over time that worked out and was destined to do great things, but for a few known troublemakers who ended up being supported by the Bundyites. On the Malheur NWR, invasive species were set to be removed by managing carp and loss of vegetation/water quality to help restore the inland part of the Pacific flyway for migratory birds, and the occupation by the Bundys and others set back wetland restoration for years, most likely, by allowing the problematic fish to expand their boundaries.
Politicians who supported these people like Michelle Fiore, Ted Cruz, and others, helped to put them into the national spotlight, and some law enforcement leaders (CSPOA again) even supported their efforts in Nevada and Oregon. This also gets into 2nd Amendment issues and the NRA, which would be an entirely different discussion (not for today), but is also quite problematic given the recent horrendous gun violence against private citizens and law enforcement officers.
And lest any of you think that this is just a problem for us to sort out in the west, water wars and land wars are found in the east, too! I worked on drought in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River basin when my sciencing was happening at FSU, and the water wars in that and some other basins have been going on in the courts for 30 years already. Thanks to Governor Rick Scott of Florida, the notion of parks in that state is now changing as well, to including hunting, mining, and timber harvesting in novel ways that boggle the mind. Florida’s parks were gems and many still are, but as water gets fouled with nutrients and springs die off and effluent spills and nutrient-laden waters from Lake Okeechobee and Fenholloway River (to name a few) are forced into the Atlantic and Gulf waters, all coastal residents and visitors can now see first-hand the environmental catastrophe (short-term for now) that is on the horizon. With climate change, there could be sagebrush growing in Florida as the land dries out and precipitation regime changes.
Is there anyone who thinks that this situation will improve when a party platform and politicians of that party tout local/state/private takeover of lands, when science shows how public protection is vital to public health in terms of land (soil), water, and air quality, and our future climate? Yet we have Governors, Senators, and their supporters who deny science from its foundational core as black and white. “You have not proven it to me yet” [I supposed I plagiarized this quote from somebody but don’t know who] is the attitude expressed. Well, I say to you it is time to turn in your membership card as a thinking person.
So come and enjoy your Federally-managed lands! You pay for them! And you don’t need a RNC or NRA membership card, to come inside (outside)!
As an aside…did we as educators really do that bad a job in school teaching people about what science is? Maybe, but I doubt it. There mu$t be $omething el$e going on here.
Paul Ruscher, Eugene, Oregon • 20 July 2016
High Country News, 2016: Forty years of Sagebrush Rebellion. High Country News, 4 January 2016, cited from http://www.hcn.org/articles/sagebrush-rebellion.
Wald, Johanna H. and Elizabeth H. Temkin, 1982: The Sagebrush Rebellion: The West Against Itself — Again. UCLA Journal of Environmental Law and Public Policy, 2 (2), cited from http://escholarship.org/uc/item/3d2722zk.