- - Friday, April 11, 2014

There’s a revolt brewing in the West, and the entire nation has a stake in the outcome. The prize: control over lands that feed, power and build America. However, what’s really at risk are the rural values and ethics that made this country great to begin with.

This latest uprising, much like the Sagebrush Rebellion of the 1970s, is the result of politicized federal bureaucracies choosing sides and emphasizing coercion over cooperation in their management of public lands and environmental policies.

What’s different this time is that Western states have a plan to save their economies and rural way of life.

Thus far, five Western states have passed laws that either study or outright demand the return of most federal lands to state control. In this era of heavy-handed, top-down management, rural communities have little left to lose as ideology-driven federal policies demean their traditional lifestyles and choke their economies.


This fact was brought home last week as armed U.S. Bureau of Land Management officers forcibly removed cattle from land a Nevada ranching family had tended and made their lives on for generations. Unfortunately, that family and those rural communities have little recourse through the political process to preserve their way of life, as elections are increasingly decided by urban populations far removed from the nation’s rural roots and production economy.

Ninety-one percent of all federal lands are in the West, and the federal government owns nearly 600 million acres of open lands west of the Nebraska-Colorado line, enough to cover every state on the Eastern Seaboard, plus Kansas, Texas and even France.

That’s 600 million acres states can’t tax to fund education and other services. This land is being regulated out of productive use by people who think food comes from supermarket shelves, electricity from wall sockets and heat from floor vents.

In truth, those everyday needs are taken care of by rural production economies run by people whose contributions are increasingly taken for granted and even scoffed at by a detached urban elite. Nowhere is this more evident than in the diminishing access Westerners have to the massive tracts of lands controlled by D.C. bureaucrats living in a Beltway bubble.

As federal power grows, special interests — from radical greens to crony corporatists — are able to impose their priorities and values on rural communities through top-down regulatory and environmental policies.

Ask farmers in eastern Washington state how they feel about King County tech millionaires imposing their trendy pet projects on the entire state. Ask an Oregon logger — if you can still find one — how he feels about Portland hipsters deciding to fence off the forest tracts his family has responsibly managed for generations. Nobody in Washington, D.C. cares how a Montana rancher feels about losing access to land his family has nurtured for generations — collateral damage in the ideological fight over fracking.

Decisions affecting rural America are now dominated by urban voters who value intangible, progressive and infinitely expansive concepts over the real and measurable labor and products that make or break rural communities and economies. These communities have become effectively disenfranchised by an urban majority who don’t share or even understand their values and the contributions they make to everyone’s lives.

Western states are realizing they can manage federal lands — as they have their own for generations — balancing aesthetic, recreational and responsible economic uses. They’re also pushing back against federal dollars and the control that comes with them for education, health care and more.

There’s a war on the West that is turning into a war for the West. Western families have been responsible stewards of rural values, traditions and lands for generations. They have supplied the nation with recreational opportunities and the basic needs of modern life, while maintaining a culture that treasures hard work and family.

We risk losing all of these things, along with the diversity Westerners provide, if the Washington elite continue to impose their urbanized values on what’s left of the American dream.

Carl Graham is the director of the Sutherland Center for Self-Government in the West.