Give Me Land, Lots of Land

This would appear to be the new theme song for the Fed-Gov’s Bureau of Land Management – that bane of ranchers like Cliven Bundy – as well as a whole lot of other ranchers, farmers, loggers, small landowners, and owners of tiny bits of property on the edge of or in areas of spectacular natural beauty, west of the Mississippi and between the Mexican and Canadian borders.

Yes, indeedy, folks – the maw of the Fed-Gov appears to be insatiable, although it is veiled over with the rationale of wanting to protect endangered species – many of which do not seem to be endangered so much any more – and miles and miles of unique old-growth Western forest. Some of these old-growth forests are so well-protected that they have burned down to the roots in catastrophic fires of late, as local environmental groups went into fits of spastic pearl-clutching, at the very suggestion that … well, pine-bark-beetle and drought-killed trees needed to be cleared away, and so did the duff and accumulation of flammable trash-brush. (The nature of many Western ecologies meant that being burned over every couple of decades was required for the good health of the ecology generally. Well-meant intervention seems to have made the situation worse. But never mind, say the environmentalists…)

This raises the natural suspicion among those of us who have been paying attention, as well as those who have had to make a living in parts of the West lately, that quite a lot of the endangered-species, famously-unique-old-growth-forest, and spectacular-unique-bit-of-landscape legislation which was passed a good three decades ago are now being used for other than their stated purposes. That they are being misused in the service of some international plot (Hello, Agenda 21!) to move us all into urban concrete Stack-a-prole apartment blocks where we can be observed and controlled by the functionaries of the Outer Party, 24-7 … well, I am not quite ready to order my tinfoil chapeau … but I am to the point of becoming concerned, shading to somewhat worried. I can see – rather clearly – that the ostensible care of establishment environmentalists has been used – and the degree of knowledge and malice aforesaid may be debated – in order to close off public lands to any economic use at all, even recreational use, if it is the wrong sort of recreation and by the wrong people. This has all has the whiff of a royal forest being established, for the use and recreation of the small numbers of the anointed, and the lesser orders – the ranchers, hunters, hikers and campers (or cabin-owners) being strictly forbidden on pain of death.

I cannot begin to guess how serious this latest threat to land along the Texas side of the Red River from the BLM is. Likely it will not go very far, now that the Texas AG has drawn a line in the sand. Maybe it is just a feint or even a campaign strategy by Mr. Abbott … but given recent history, and the resentments of all kinds of small-property ranchers and land-owners it’s a shrewd one. The state of Texas, in a handy turn of fate retained ownership of public lands upon becoming a state, instead of the Fed-Gov taking over and retaining vast tracts of wilderness. To this day there are only a couple of national parks within Texas, plus military bases – and for the BLM to even think of appropriating privately-owned lands on the Texas side of the Red River – is breathtakingly ill-conceived. If the BLM is serious in doing so, I guarantee that they will be resisted, furiously. It would make the brouhaha at the Bundy ranch look like a kindergarten playground squabble. It appears at this point, though, that the BLM has backed away, piously disavowing any such intent. For now, anyway, say I, cynically. Five years ago I might have written such a step up to ignorance rather than malice. Five years ago I wouldn’t have thought the IRS would be turned loose to harass political opponents of the Dem Party machine, either.

(Crossposted at

11 thoughts on “Give Me Land, Lots of Land”

  1. So, in short: it’s OK for Texas to defend its property rights on the public land it owns but not for the Federal government to do the same. Have I got that right?

    As I remarked some days ago, stealing property rights to common land or to public land, as Mr Bundy seems to be engaged in, has got the fine medieval name of “purpresture”. I’m surprised to see people on this site supporting such theft for no better reason than that they don’t like the supposed motives of the Feds. Should I get off with stealing something of yours because I don’t like your motives? Personally I’d prefer the rule of law. Sorting out the Federal government seems to me a different issue: obviously important, probably urgent, but calling for an ability to pick the right fights – which this isn’t one of, I suggest.

  2. As I remarked some days ago, stealing property rights to common land or to public land, as Mr Bundy seems to be engaged in, has got the fine medieval name of “purpresture”.

    Bundy may be wrong on the law. He may be a buffoon. All irrelevant in this case. What matters is that the federal govt has changed its behavior without warning or public consultation, going against its own longstanding practice and the wishes of most local residents, to enforce rules which it previously did not enforce. To argue that Bundy is legally in the wrong is to miss the point. This is a land grab by central authority for corrupt or ideological reasons or both. It appears also to be an attempt to intimidate other citizens who might object to abuses of federal power.

  3. No one stole any land in Nevada. Trespassing was the worst that you could accuse them off and even that is open to interpretation. A law wasn’t really broken. The offense in question is actually a violation of a bureaucratic regulation.

    This isn’t a matter of preferring rule of law, but preferring rule making by unelected, unaccountable cronies. The cronies got in a position of authority because they were supposed to be advancing and protecting the public interest. When they stop doing that and are only advancing their own interests, then they need to be opposed.

    Northern Texas is currently in a severe drought. The BLM is probably trying to move in and seize water rights because they smell a profit opportunity.

  4. In the case of the Texas land – from my reading of the links, some land in the area was secured by the BLM from a private owner – reading between the lines, it was a matter of eminent domain – and intended to be used for recreational purposes. Now the BLM appeared to be going back for another helping, using that as a precedent. This is much more clear-cut than the Bundy situation, which was a matter of him grazing cattle on public land, and the BLM making it increasingly more difficult for him to do so.

    The Fed-Gov owns relatively little land in Texas. Most of the parks are state parks, as a matter of fact. Just about all the land otherwise is privately owned, which is why they’ve been able to develop so much of it in the shale-oil boom. It’s a matter of negotiating with private owners for the rights to drill. The oil-drilling companies do not have to jump thru endless hoops. (Which is why richer shale oil deposits in other states are not being developed at all – they’re on Fed-gov land.)

  5. “Have I got that right?” Yes, next question.

    The difference is that the state isn’t trying to take the land away from private owners.

  6. The big issue in my mind is that the national government owns about 30% of the land in the US.

    The vast majority is west of the Mississippi. This generally came about as sparsely settled territories were invited to bribe the congress with turning over most all privately untitled lands to Federal ownership in exchange for statehood. In Nevada that amounts to 80%. Wanting to keep a lock on such an asset, the BLM was created to manage these lands for productive use. Hence as development came, it leased vast tracts for grazing, timber, mining, oil and gas production and other agricultural uses.

    What actually should have happened IMO is that it should have been auctioned so that it could have passed into private hands, establishing the best incentives for highest valued use and best long-term conservation of value. Long standing leases, virtually renewed as a property right, were an inferior but workable solution so long as competing uses were confined to productive alternatives that required competitive private funding.

    This has gradually changed when special interests were able to capture the agendas of regulatory actors such as the EPA, Energy Department, Interior Department and it sub-species, including BLM and so forth. Mobilizing public constituencies in the name of many good sounding but self-defining causes such as environment protection, sustainable energy, endangered species protection, preservation of eco systems, global warming (climate change), public access to public lands, etc., the statist organizing groups have been able to garner great political clout. Their support largely residing in areas isolated from the impacts of government ownership or intent on controlling their competition has allowed them to completely overwhelm any objective cost-benefit analysis concerning the uses, by whom or the exclusion of these lands from use.

    If one looks at the western states with large percentage of BLM land, you will see many suffering stunted economic development even though much of our mineral, energy and agricultural potential are located there. It is easy for eastern environmentally concerned voters to get on the “save the smelt/tortoise/etc.” boat when their local area doesn’t suffer from the BLM getting into bed with the radical and well funded environmental/animal rights/Mother Earth/socialist lobbies.

    Bundy may be on the wrong side of the legal case (and lacking common sense and other things), but for the BLM to significantly reduce his grazing rights and expect the same tribute is also wrong. Based on sustainability, it takes a large number of acres per head to make that land viable. Distances are already great and exclusions can make already marginal tracts unusable.

    If the BLM wanted a showdown over the rent, they should have taken him to court, not created a breech of the law by seizing and harming his cattle and destroying his capital improvements. That case would have allowed an airing of the issues. If I have to choose, I prefer Bundy’s cattle to the tortoises, assuming there has to be a choice.

    Now about Texas versus Fed land grabs. We’uns in Texas don’t cotton tah neither. Governor Perry and his guys wanted to create a state owned multi-transportation corridor for interstate, toll roads, high speed rail and freight rail right up the gut of Texas from Larado to the Oklahoma border. The eminent domain, funding and political backlash resulted in the project being dismantled. Texas not only has hardly any Federal lands, about 1.4%, we hardly have any state lands either (.5%). We like it that way.

    The issue along the northern border has to do with the BLM changing the historically consistent and accepted definition of the vegetation line on the south bank of the Red River. It has been the surveyed private property of the land owners for generations including the grazing and farming land between the high bluffs above the river and the actual end of sustained vegetation along the course of the river. Pay taxes on it, have ownership records going back to the supreme court case (and before) that chose the definition. Now the BLM is/was considering a change of the meaning of the definition to be the “top of the high bluffs.” This amounts to the transfer of about 90,000 acres of productive agricultural land from established property owners to the Federal Government. I say that is seizure without due process. And it wouldn’t make any difference if it was the BLM, the Great State of Texas, the UN or space aliens. This is not about which government gets to own it. It is about private owners keeping it from any governments seizure and the Texas government is backing those folks. If the BLM seems to be walking this back as quickly as they can, for now.

    Dearieme, you come from a nation with a long history of landed nobility having the property rights and governing the use of common lands (not set aside for specific use of a tenant) as well as reserving whatever they wished for their own exclusive uses. When estates were gradually sold off based on financial/economic necessity, communities were well conditioned to commons areas and set aside some for common use. Since the communities were generally homogenous and modest in size, it was workable. Our traditions include commons as well, especially in our first states and public parks are a resulting institution.

    The results of common or public ownership applied indiscriminately is easily seen by a trip through public housing and comparing condition and upkeep costs to privately owned housing, especially if owner occupied. Even in Great Britain, I’m betting that public commons amounts to a small total of land area. Nothing like the per capita government land we have.

    All kinds of misallocations of these valuable resources occur when concentrations like this are placed under the political rather than the market system. For example, oil and gas production is exploding on our private lands, but almost nothing is happening on our public lands. There is really no such thing as publicly owned land. There is government owned land that residents (the public) may or may not have limited temporary use of under the arbitrary rules and costs decided upon by nameless faceless minions far from the scene.

    I hope we can agree that private ownership is generally preferable to government ownership of the means of production.


  7. The Constitution does not expressly grant the United States the power to own large swathes of land. The only express grants of that power are in the following clauses of Art.I §8:

    “To establish Post Offices and post Roads;

    “To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, … become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards and other needful Buildings;”

    Amend.X provides that: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

    Therefore we must conclude that the Federal Government must cede all land not used for post roads or “Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards and other needful Buildings;” to the states where the land is located.

  8. Grurray Says:
    April 24th, 2014 at 4:13 pm

    If I may add to your post, there is also the matter of jumping directly to deadly force. We have enough recent history in this country where when Federal forces bring in this kind of firepower, the intent and end is the murder of civilians. With impunity. If the Federal government does not wish to be perceived as a tyrant, then its first reaction to anything but abject submission should not be a threat of murder.

    Keep in mind, that this is an administration that has explicitly and repeatedly claimed the power to kill any American citizen, without charge or due process, solely by bureaucratic fiat.

    The BLM placed 200+ SWAT and snipers around the Bundy Ranch. The United States Army is sending 150 troops to Poland to deter an attack by the entire-freaking-Russian Army. A government that does that is not my servant. It is trying to be my master.

    There is a story that covers the American reaction to that:

    a British Lord travels to the Frontier West, America in the 1800’s. His horse throws a shoe on the trail, so at the first little frontier town he comes to, he finds a blacksmith’s shop to have the shoe replaced. As he rides up, he sees a large, sweaty, filthy man hammering on a piece of red-hot iron. The Lord sits on his horse, waiting to be served, but the blacksmith doesn’t pay him any attention and continues to work his iron. Finally, the Lord, outraged to have been ignored this way by an obvious servant, dismounts, approaches the ‘smith, and taps the man on the shoulder with his riding crop.

    “You, man!” he barks, “Who is your Master! I wish to have a word with him!”

    The blacksmith turns, looks at the Englishman, spits a stream of tobacco juice on the point of the Lord’s boot and says,

    “That sumbitch ain’t been born.”

    Subotai Bahadur

  9. “a British Lord travels to the Frontier West, America in the 1800′s. His horse throws a shoe on the trail, so at the first little frontier town he comes to, he finds a blacksmith’s shop to have the shoe replaced. As he rides up, he sees a large, sweaty, filthy man hammering on a piece of red-hot iron. The Lord sits on his horse, waiting to be served, but the blacksmith doesn’t pay him any attention and continues to work his iron. Finally, the Lord, outraged to have been ignored this way by an obvious servant, dismounts, approaches the ‘smith, and taps the man on the shoulder with his riding crop.

    “’You, man’!” he barks, ‘Who is your Master! I wish to have a word with him!’

    “The blacksmith turns, looks at the Englishman, spits a stream of tobacco juice on the point of the Lord’s boot and says,

    “’That sumbitch ain’t been born.’”

    Now, of course, he has (at least according to “liberals”): On August 4, 1941, in Kenya. I mean, Hawaii.

  10. The BLM has far exceeded its mission and it would be interesting to see what the USSC would do with a case based on Article X.

    As of February 2010, legislators in Utah have introduced legislation to allow the use of eminent domain on federal land. Rep. Christopher Herrod has introduced the bill in a state where the federal government controls over 60% of the land. The effort has the full support of Republican Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who would have to defend the law. The proposal includes setting aside $3 million for legal defense.

    This may be building to a climax and the Obama administration seem to be a fat target.

    “On our side, we’re trying to figure out in 1993, when they enacted these fees, they said it was compensation for damages, without a definition so define compensation for damages,” she said.
    Fiore added, “What are the cattle damaging? And are they not really saving and protecting the mountain from fires? If you think about it, the area that they don’t graze on is black because it was struck by lightning and it went on fire, so there is a lot of discussion and debate going on.”

    It might yet end up in the Supreme Court.

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