December 4, 2017
Trump's Action on Public Lands in Utah Is Not Privatization
As we've noted at mises.org many times, the amount of land owned by the federal government in Western states is enormous. Today, the feds control 640 million acres (not counting the far larger federally-owned areas of coastal sea floor). And in most Western states, the Federal government owns more than a third of all the land. In the case of Utah, the federal government owns 65 percent.
And, the Federal government is likely to continue owning at least 65 percent of the land in Utah, in spite of a recent decision by the Trump administration to shrink two National Monuments created by the Obama administration in its final months.
In an article titled "Ruled by DC: Get the Feds Out of Western Lands," I looked at the two new monuments:
Today, the Trump administration announced that it will take a different approach:
If one takes a look at the media reports on this matter, one might be left with the impression that the land is ceasing to be federal land — which is not happening.
There is no indication that the land is being "privatized" in any way. Instead, it appears much of the land would simply revert to its old status, which was as federal land administered by by Bureau of Land Management or the Forest Service.
Indeed, this article by Jason Chaffetz confirms this:
In spite of the fact that these "public" (i.e., government-owned) lands look to continue to be public lands, one observer claimed the move is: "the largest attack on parks and public lands in our nation’s history."
Now, it may be that local politicians want to privatize the land. For that to happen, two things would need to happen first:
But let's say the first condition actually happens, and millions of acres of federal lands are handed over to the Utah government. Well, that's obviously not privatization.
But even if the State of Utah controlled the land, it would still have to deal with what would be predictable opposition from local residents. This would include sportsmen and local merchants — people who are hardly lefty tree-huggers.
Chaffetz himself got a taste of this when he pushed legislation de-federalizing 3 million acres (out of 640 million acres) of federal land. It didn't go over well with hunters, to say the least. But local also know that local wilderness lands can be a cash cow for the local tourist industry.
In other words, de-federalization of land is a long way from privatization of land.
But, for everyone outside of Utah, this should be none of our business. If federal lands become Utah lands — as should be the case for all federal lands inside the boundaries of any US state — then it becomes a local matter for people in Utah.
And out West, most voters love their public lands.
There's one caveat: we've heard a lot about how various groups from Indian tribes have supported the designation of the two monuments because they are an important "cultural landscape."
But here's the thing: either these lands are Indian lands or they are not. If they are Indian lands, then the proper thing to do is make them tribal lands, and not federal lands. (Tribal lands are important, and there should be more of them.)
But, if they are not really tribal lands, then their administration needs to be state or local or private. After all, ownership of large tracts of land is just another "power" the US government invented for itself.
For more, see: