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Ranchers’ cause, not tactics, gains support in GOP circles

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    A man standing guard pushes a videographer aside after members of the “3% of Idaho” group along with several other organizations arrived at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore., on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016. A small, armed group has been occupying the remote national wildlife refuge in Oregon for a week to protest federal land use policies.


Republicans have widely condemned the efforts by a group of armed ranchers to reclaim federal land in eastern Oregon, but the ranchers’ goal of taking back some of Washington’s vast holdings in the West has gained traction in the GOP.

The decades-old idea could garner even more momentum should the party recapture the White House this year.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has proposed preventing the federal government from owning more than 50 percent of the land in any state, which would require changes, for example, in Alaska, Nevada and other western states.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has backed legislation to give states the ability to develop energy resources on federal land and told the Des Moines Register editorial board that “the federal government owns far too much land” in the West.

Both senators backed an amendment offered by Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski last year that would make it easier for federal land to be returned to state control.

Meanwhile, an effort to force the federal government to hand over lands to the states has also gained momentum, with the Republican National Committee in 2014 issuing a resolution calling for western states to reclaim the land. Republican legislatures in states such as Georgia and South Carolina have passed motions backing the concept, and several western states are studying the issue.

“The people on the ground are so exasperated with this lock-down, hands-off management that it’s percolating up,” said Ken Ivory, a Utah state legislator who founded the American Lands Council, which advocates for western states reclaiming their land. “It’s one of those things that’s destined to be.”

But both environmentalists and even some critics of federal control of western lands say politics will keep much of the West firmly under federal control. Many westerners prize their ability to use federal land to hunt, hike or fish, and more people are moving to the region’s cities and fewer to rural areas where conflict with federal land management is rife.

“It just ignites a firestorm” whenever large-scale land transfers are discussed, said Oregon Republican Rep. Greg Walden, a longtime critic of federal western land management, whose district includes the wildlife refuge where a handful of armed ranchers have been holed up since last week, refusing to leave until the land is returned to local control.

He noted that President George W. Bush had to backpedal on a plan to sell off surplus western land and argued that, if the GOP captures the White House this year, no large-scale land transfer would pass even a Republican-controlled Congress.

“We’re just outnumbered in the West,” Walden said, adding that Republicans from other regions would not necessarily join with western ones. “We don’t have the votes.”

Environmentalists are alarmed at the direction of the conversation, but they agree that large-scale transfers are unlikely.

“It seems to be a popular issue in presidential primaries for capturing tea party support, but it lacks the popular support that is needed to actually happen and it carries with it all sorts of fiscal and practical problems,” said Matt Lee-Ashley of the liberal Center for American Progress.

The federal government owns nearly 1 million square miles in the West, and for more than a century conflicts between its priorities and those of the people who live there have helped define the region. In the 1970s and 1980s the backlash over new wilderness areas in the West was dubbed “the sagebrush rebellion.” Anger at federal encroachment flared again during the Clinton administration in the 1990s and has reignited during the Obama administration.

Advocates of greater local control over western lands often express exasperation at standoffs like the one in Oregon, which they see as undermining their cause.

They argue that arcane federal rules can ensnare well-meaning ranchers, off-road enthusiasts or others, and that some of the vast swathes of protected land prevent energy extraction that could be a boon to communities with few jobs.

Small parcels of western land occasionally change hands, often as part of conservation deals, but the push for massive changes is new.

Utah in 2012 passed legislation written by Ivory demanding the federal government return its lands to state control. A study commissioned by the state found that local control could conceivably boost the economy.

But when Idaho contemplated a similar move, its own study found state control could be ruinously expensive because Idaho taxpayers would have to assume responsibility for fighting wildfires and cleaning up abandoned mines that are currently paid for by the federal government.

Arizona is also studying the issue. And Ivory remains optimistic about the long-term prospect of the movement.

“This is still very, very, very young,” he said.

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  • The top echelon repubs want less government because it means less regulation of business and less corporate taxes- not so ranchers can entertain themselves playing army in the woods. The incessant rhetoric about Muslims, big government, immigrants, gays, etc. keeps the rank-and-file happily occupied- while the top-tier echelon guys laugh all the way to the bank.

    • Finally, someone who gets the insanity of the Republicans what really lies behind the curtain. Sorry, in spite of Hillary’s deep failures, I have to vote for her just to protect myself and America. Republicans have gone off the deep end.

        Mineral Resources of the Pueblo Mountains Wilderness Study Area, Harney County, Oregon, and Humboldt County, Nevada

      • Ah, yes, Indian princess (Fauxahontas?). It would make sense to elect a person so craven and amoral, a person capable of lying to you at your loved ones funeral about their cause of death (Benghazi), a person capable of using her State Department position/influence to juice up her personal wealth through her hubby’s “speaking fees” and foundation “contributions”, many from oppressive foreign governments, a person, though claiming to be the great feminist hope, capable of destroying the reputations of some of the 14 women Bill Clinton abused, a person who left our entire foreign policy in a smoking sinkhole of failure, a person who claimed to be just the one to take that “3 AM phone call” in a crisis, then slept through the killing of our ambassador, who then defended herself before congress with the Sgt. Schultz defense, “I knew nothing, nothing!”, a person who calously exposed classified information by using her unsecure email in order to insulate herself from public scrutiny.

        By all means, definitely vote for this compulsively lying, amoral harridan because some evil, greedy capitalists might use some of the over 50% of western land controlled by DC bureaucrats to actually create jobs in an otherwise dead economy or that a state government actually accountable to its citizens might actually do a better job for its people than some unelected Federal official. No, we wouldn’t want anything like that to happen, would we.

  • They don’t want the government to own the land, then give it back to its original owners, the Native American Indians. Let the ranchers dwell on that.

  • I thought the supreme law of the land, ie the Constitution states that the Fed’s can’t own any land outside of Washington DC other then military bases and ports? I guess it’s just another technicality, like State Hood.

  • Hawaiians should arm themselves and start taking back their lands. That and painting their face white so they don’t get shot and arrested. Never saw the GOP come to the rescue of Native Americans or Kanaka Maoli. Huh?

  • Just two and 1/2 comments. Minor: Hyphenating “Native”(a term based on bloodline) and “American” (a member of the only People on Earth defined by common principles instead of a bloodline) produces a true oxymoron. Which is a word used to refers to foolishly sticking two conflicting meanings together like Jumbo-Shrimp. Some say Military Intelligence. Major: The point being missed is today’s GOP are all rich kids who stand for nothing, none of which seem to know anything about the ideas and principles America’s Founders wrote to explain their reasoning for specifically guaranteeing the right of citizens to keep and bear arms … not to shoot bears, but to protect them from having their political class corrupted by power … and the temptation to decided they were there to Rule, not Serve with the consent of the governed. And since both DEMs and GOPS now speak and act like they believe they were born to Rule, not Serve, there is only one hope for the citizen ranchers … they need to begin over with a new Political Party … one built anew starting with a clean slate. Even more so those of us who live under 1-Party rule. I mean the Founders started over with a clean slate and that worked well. They didn’t “Reform” a corrupt old Monarchy. In Hawaii I found The American Political Party … [Oh … 1/2: Yes the American People speak American, not English. Just like the Mexican People speak Mexican, not Spanish. Just ask any well educated citizen oof England or Spain. Americans, like Mexicans, are not “half-breed” pasted together from other People. We are new Nations with our own People.]

  • How is it that a middle age white man, armed with an AR15, has the right to push an American reporter, off a public roadway? This Jihad in other countries.

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