Cause grabs GOP eye

Stando≠ in Ore­gon prompts Repub­li­cans to re­visit fed­eral land use

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Ni­cholas Ric­cardi

Repub­li­cans have widely con­demned the armed stand­off by a group of ranch­ers to re­claim fed­eral land in east­ern Ore­gon, but their goal of tak­ing back some of Wash­ing­ton’s vast hold­ings in the West has gained trac­tion in the GOP.

The decades-old idea could garner even more mo­men­tum should the party re­cap­ture the White House this year.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has pro­posed pre­vent­ing the fed­eral govern­ment from own­ing more than 50 per­cent of the land in any state, which would re­quire changes, for ex­am­ple, in Alaska, Ne­vada and other Western states.

Florida Sen. Marco Ru­bio has backed leg­is­la­tion to give states the abil­ity to de­velop en­ergy re­sources on fed­eral land and told the Des Moines Reg­is­ter edi­to­rial board that “the fed­eral govern­ment owns far too much land” in the West.

Both sen­a­tors backed an amend­ment of­fered by Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski last year that would make it eas­ier for fed­eral land to be re­turned to state con­trol.

Mean­while, an ef­fort to force the fed­eral govern­ment to hand over lands to the states has also gained mo­men­tum, with the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee in 2014 is­su­ing a res­o­lu­tion call­ing for Western states to re­claim the land. Repub­li­can leg­is­la­tures in states such as Ge­or­gia and South Carolina have passed mo­tions back­ing the con­cept, and sev­eral western states are study­ing the is­sue.

“The peo­ple on the ground are so ex­as­per­ated with this lock­down, hands-off man­age­ment that it’s per­co­lat­ing up,” said Ken Ivory, a Utah state leg­is­la­tor who founded the Amer­i­can Lands Coun­cil, which ad­vo­cates for western states re­claim­ing their land. “It’s one of those things that’s des­tined to be.”

But both en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and even some crit­ics of fed­eral con­trol of western lands say pol­i­tics will keep much of the West firmly un­der fed­eral con­trol. Many Westerners prize their abil­ity to use fed­eral land to hunt, hike or fish, and more peo­ple are mov­ing to the re­gion’s cities and fewer to ru­ral ar­eas where con­flict with fed­eral land man­age­ment is rife.

“It just ig­nites a firestorm” when­ever largescale land trans­fers are dis­cussed, said Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., a long­time critic of fed­eral western land man­age­ment, whose district in­cludes the wildlife refuge where a hand­ful of armed ranch­ers have been holed up since last week, re­fus­ing to leave un­til the land is re­turned to lo­cal con­trol.

He noted that Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush had to backpedal on a plan to sell off sur­plus western land and ar­gued that, if the GOP cap­tures the White House this year, no large-scale land trans­fer would pass even a Repub­li­can-con­trolled Congress.

“We’re just out­num­bered in the West,” Walden said, adding that Repub­li­cans from other re­gions would not nec­es­sar­ily join with Western ones. “We don’t have the votes.”

The fed­eral govern­ment owns nearly 1 mil­lion square miles in the West, and for more than a cen­tury con­flicts be­tween its pri­or­i­ties and those of the peo­ple who live there have helped de­fine the re­gion.

Mem­bers of the FBI stand guard Sun­day at the Burns Mu­nic­i­pal Air­port in Burns, Ore. A small, armed group has been oc­cu­py­ing a re­mote na­tional wildlife refuge for a week to protest fed­eral land use poli­cies. Pho­tos by Rick Bowmer, The As­so­ci­ated Press

Rancher Jerry Miller, 79, and his daugh­ter Tina Steeves de­liver hay to his cat­tle on his ranch in Crane, Ore. Be­hind the stand­off be­tween ranch­ers and the U.S. govern­ment in Ore­gon is a decades-old idea in the West to take back con­trol of fed­eral lands.

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