Western Lawmakers Hold Summit to Talk Federal Land Takeover

It’s about time, folks:

It’s time for Western states to take control of federal lands within their borders, lawmakers and county commissioners from Western states said at Utah’s Capitol on Friday.

More than 50 political leaders from nine states convened for the first time to talk about their joint goal: wresting control of oil-, timber -and mineral-rich lands away from the feds.

“It’s simply time,” said Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, who organized the Legislative Summit on the Transfer for Public Lands along with Montana state Sen. Jennifer Fielder. “The urgency is now.”

Utah House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, was flanked by a dozen participants, including her counterparts from Idaho and Montana, during a press conference after the daylong closed-door summit. U.S. Sen. Mike Lee addressed the group over lunch, Ivory said. New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming, Oregon and Washington also were represented.

The summit was in the works before this month’s tense standoff between Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management over cattle grazing, Lockhart said.

“What’s happened in Nevada is really just a symptom of a much larger problem,” Lockhart said.

According to the Congressional Research Service in 2012, over 81 percent of Nevada is owned by the federal government, and over half of other states — such as Oregon and Utah — are federally owned. All told, over one-quarter of the United States is overseen by Washington.

This is a problem on a number of levels, not the least of which is the potential for abuse by federal officials. Other issues, such as billions in dollars wasted on unused federal properties and the question of efficient utilization of the land, are also concerning. And, of course, federalism is critical.

Hopefully, the discussions described in the block quote above will result in more than just words. Utah is already moving to challenge the federal government on this issue — other states should follow its lead.

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