January 5, 2016

Back Story: Oregon standoff

Wikipedia - An extension of the older controversy of state vs. federal powers, Sagebrush Rebels wanted the federal government to give more control of federally owned Western lands to state and local authorities. This was meant to increase the growth of Western economies. Republican Ronald Reagan declared himself a sagebrush rebel in an August 1980 campaign speech in Salt Lake City, telling the crowd, "I happen to be one who cheers and supports the Sagebrush Rebellion. Count me in as a rebel."

The term "Sagebrush Rebellion" was coined during fights over designation of National Wilderness lands, especially in Western states, and especially after the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management conducted required surveys of plots of public lands of at least 5,000 acres that were unroaded after 1972 for potential designation as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. This process was known as the "Roadless Area Review and Evaluation" (RARE, or later, RARE I). The RARE process developed significant opposition from both environmental groups and public lands users, and was challenged in federal court.] Results of RARE I were nullified by the courts for lack of uniform criteria for evaluation of lands and other procedural problems. A second review started in 1977, known as RARE II, involving more than 60 million acres of wildland under federal jurisdiction. RARE II was completed in 1979. Controversy and lack of support from the Reagan administration, starting in 1981, largely sidelined a formal national wilderness assessment. Congress has designated several wilderness areas since 1981, sometimes using data acquired through the RARE processes.

Much of the wildland was sagebrush, which some wanted to use for grazing, off-road vehicle use, and other development instead of wilderness conservation. These "rebels" urged that, instead of designating more federal wilderness protection, some or much of the land be granted to states or private parties. They took on the phrase "Sagebrush Rebellion" to describe their opposition to federal management of these lands. Public lands history Map of US federal lands.

Complaints about federal management of public lands constantly roil relations between public lands users — ranchers, miners, researchers, off-road vehicle enthusiasts, hikers, campers and conservation advocates — and the agencies and environmental regulation on the other. Ranchers complain that grazing fees are too high. They also complain that grazing regulations are too onerous despite environmentalist complaints that the opposite is true, and that promised improvements to grazing on federal lands do not occur. Miners complain of restricted access to claims, or to lands to prospect. Researchers complain of the difficulty of getting research permits, only to encounter other obstacles in research, including uncooperative permit holders and, especially in archaeology, vandalized sites with key information destroyed. ORV users want free access while hikers and campers and conservationists complain grazing is not regulated enough and that some mineral lease holders abuse other lands, or that ORV use destroys the resource. Each of these complaints has a long history.

Federal holding of public lands was originally an accident of history. Among the first pieces of legislation passed under the U.S. Constitution was the Northwest Ordinance, which was designed to dispose of lands the federal government held after state claims were conceded in the Northwest Territories (now Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana).

In order to encourage settlement of western lands, Congress passed the Morrell Act in 1862, granting parcels in 40-acre increments to homesteaders who could maintain a living on land for a period of time. Congress also made huge land grants to various railroads working to complete a transcontinental rail system. Much of these latter grants intentionally included mineral and timber-rich lands so that the railroads could get financing to build. Again, the hypothesis was that the railroads would sell off the land to get money.

Ultimately, however, it turned out that much land west of the Missouri River was not ecologically suited for homesteading because of mountainous terrain, poor soils, lack of available water and other ecological barriers to significant settlement. By the early 20th century, the federal government held significant portions of most western states that had simply not been claimed for any use. Conservationists prevailed upon President Theodore Roosevelt to set asid

Various bills intended to transfer federal public lands to western states had been proposed after 1932, all failing to garner much attention, let alone action. Among key objections to such transfers were the increasing value to the federal treasury of mineral lease receipts and complaints that the "crown jewels" of the national lands holdings, the National Parks, could not be managed adequately or fairly by individual states.

The spark that turned these complaints into a "rebellion" was the enactment in 1976 of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act that ended homesteading, which meant that the federal government would retain control of western public lands. The act sought to establish a system of land management by the Bureau of Land Management. While FLPMA required the BLM to plan land use accommodating all users, specifically naming ranching, grazing, and mining, it also introduced formal processes to consider preservation of the land from those uses.

Ultimately, Hatch's bill got little more than press attention. The election of Ronald Reagan as president put a friend to the Sagebrush Rebels in the White House, James G. Watt, and his appointees slowed or closed down wilderness designation legislation. By Reagan's second term, the Sagebrush Rebellion was back to simmering on the back burner of federal land management agencies.

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