June 01, 2017

Are National Monuments the Right Way to Manage Federal Public Lands?

Matthew J. Sanders

American history is replete with struggles over who should own and care for the land and how it should be managed. In the first two months of this year, a group of activists commandeered the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in rural Oregon to protest what they viewed as the federal government’s undue control of public lands. The protest lasted 40 days and ended with one activist dead and many others arrested. Meanwhile, a movement in Utah to wrest 31 million acres of public lands from federal ownership is gaining steam, with its backers having passed a state law demanding that the federal government hand over land to the state and considering a lawsuit against the federal government. See H.B. 148, 59th Leg., Reg. Sess. (Utah 2012) (enacted); Brian Maffly, Republicans OK $14M land-transfer lawsuit, say Utah must regain sovereignty, Salt Lake Tribune (Dec. 9, 2015). Thirty-six similar bills have been introduced in 10 other western states during the current legislative cycle.

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