October 01, 2019

The Flawed Law and Economics of Federal Land Seizure Statutes

Hillary M. Hoffmann

Across the west, states are pursuing federal land seizure legislation at a rate the nation has not seen since the Sagebrush Rebellion in the 1970s and 1980s. Utah, which is leading the charge, enacted its Transfer of Public Lands Act in 2012, which required the federal government to transfer title to 31.2 million acres of federal public lands in Utah to the state by December 31, 2014. This amounts to roughly 60 percent of the state’s total land base, according to a 2014 economic study commissioned by the Utah legislature to analyze the financial feasibility of a transfer. In March, Arizona passed House Bill 2658, which created a legislative committee to study the feasibility of a transfer, and in April 2015, the Alaska House of Representatives passed a bill similar to Utah’s, called the Alaska Sovereignty Act. Colorado, New Mexico, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nevada, and Washington have taken steps toward enacting similar legislation, which would transfer hundreds of millions of acres of land managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service from federal to state ownership. Until recently, the federal government has largely ignored these efforts, but in March of 2015, the U.S. Senate approved an amendment to a nonbinding budget resolution to create a process by which the federal government could transfer Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands to the western states.

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