Daily Class OutlineDaily Class QuestionsDaily Class Web LinksDaily Class Notes



Question for Discussion: How does the
Sagebrush Rebellion in the 1970s help us
understand the power of Western States
to intimidate Federal Agencies in the West?

Reading: Lamm, "The Angry West: The Dark Riders";
Cawley, "The Sagebrush Rebellion"

Video: Forest Service: Chapters 7, 8, -- Growth
of Receational Use and Environmental Pressure

Daily Class Web Links

Maps of the New West

Daily Class Outline

  1. Hightower, "Piggy bank, redefined"

  2. Simon Johnson, "The Quiet Coup"

  3. Muller, "Our Epistemological Depression"

  4. Salmon, "Recipe for Disaster"

  5. O'Harrow and Gerth, "As Crisis Loomed"

  6. Simon Johnson, "The Radicalization of Ben Bernanke"

  7. Federal Lands and Indian Reservations
    in the West
    (in-class)

  8. Percentage by State of U.S. Government
    Land in the West
    (in-class)


  9. The West from Space at Night (in-class)

  10. Environmental Laws that helped spark
    the Sagebrush Rebellion
    (in-class)

  11. Summary of the 1960 Multiple Use
    Sustained Yield Act
    (in-class)

  12. Summary of 1976 Federal Land Policy and
    Management act (FLPMA)
    (in-class)

  13. Sagebrush Rebels on Locking-up Westen Land
    (in-class)

  14. Political Cartoon: Welfare Westerners
    on the Public Dole
    (in-class)

  15. Sagebrush Rebellion Road Sign (in-class)

  16. McGregor Cawley, The Sage Brush Rebellion:
    great summary of the major issues

  17. The Real Issue in the Sagebrush Rebellion
    (in-class)

  18. The Sagebrush Rebellion as Uprising
    of Western resource extractors
    (in-class)

  19. The Pacific Legal Foundation:
    Sagebrush Rebellion Lawyers


  20. Mountain States Legal Foundation Mission:
    Sagebrush Rebellion Lawyers


  21. U.S. News: The Sagebrush Rebellion
    (1980)
    (in-class)

  22. Sagebrush Rebels Claimed to Support State Management of Public Lands (in-class)

  23. The Real Goals of the Sagebrush Rebellion
    (in-class)

  24. Stegner on the Sagebrush Rebellion (in-class)

  25. Riding the Wave of the Reagan Revolution
    (in-class)

  26. Reagan's Federal Real Property Initiative (in-class)

  27. Sagebrush Rebellion Quieted for
    Now (1996)
    (in-class)

  28. The Anti-Conservation Movement (2002)

  29. Wise Move?: Wise-Use Movement

  30. Forest Service Memo on Management Impications
    of the Wise Use Movement
    (in-class)

  31. Wise-Use Movement Objectives:
    basic guide to their beliefs
    (in-class)

  32. Wise-Use: What do we Believe

  33. The Property Rights Movement and the new
    SageBrush Rebellion: The Key Issue (2002)

    (in-class)

  34. Lamm, On the Value of Wilderness in the West
    (in-class)

  35. Ring, Sagebrush Rebels with a Lost Cause (2007)



Daily Class Questions

 

 



Daily Class Notes

The Sagebrush Rebellion as Uprising of Western resource extractors

By 1980, a powerful political faction known as the "Sagebrush Rebellion" had arisen in backlash to the environmental concerns of the rest of the country. Consisting of western public-land users (livestock grazing, timbering, mining, and gas/oil development) and hunters, the Sagebrush Rebellion wanted federal lands turned over to the states, which would keep national public interest groups out of their business. Having openly declared "I am a Sagebrush Rebel" (in an August 1980 campaign speech in Salt Lake City, Utah), President Reagan eagerly served the interests of the Sagebrush Rebellion, despite the laws and an overwhelming public mandate against it.


As long as there are public lands in the West and Westerners who chafe under government restrictions--in other words, as long as the West survives -- there will be a Sagebrush Rebellion.

The name may change. These days, some rebels rally round a County Supremacy flag, while others see themselves as foot soldiers in a grand, if somewhat amorphous, "War for the West".

Whatever name it goes by, the Sagebrush Rebellion is grounded in the unchanging reality of Western communities surrounded by public land. Nowhere is this reality more apparent than in Nevada. Around 87 percent of the state is owned by the federal government. It is no coincidence that the Sagebrush Rebellion has found a natural base of support here over the years.
...Sagebrush Rebels would rather fight than Win


U.S. News: The Sagebrush Rebellion (1980)

  1. At the heart of the controversy is the land. The federal government owns more than half the land in the West, 700 million acres that include 96 percent of Alaska, 81 percent of Nevada, 66 percent of Utah, 64 percent of Idaho, 53 percent of Oregon, 48 percent of Wyoming, 36 percent of Colorado.
  2. "This vast federal holding means we are not our own landlords," says Colorado Governor Richard D. Lamm. "We cannot control our own destiny."
  3. Adds Arizona State Senator Anne Lindeman of Phoenix: "Everybody thinks that the Sagebrush Rebellion is just for the benefit of cattlemen. The basic concern is that people here have nothing to say about the large hunks of federally owned and managed lands."
  4. The last straw. The spark that ignited the revolt was the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act, which says that public land must be kept in perpetual trust by the federal government. The legislation dashed Western hopes that the U.S. would gradually turn control of public lands over to local governments, which residents argue could do a better job of managing public land than bureaucrats stationed in Washington. "We've been robbed blind for 100 years by mismanagement of federal lands," declares Huey Johnson, director of California's Resources Agency.
  5. More disturbing than federal land ownership, in the eyes of many Westerners, is increasing government restriction on uses of public lands. In the past four years, the Carter administration and Congress have placed 37.8 million acres of land in parks, wilderness areas, wildlife refuges and other categories that ban or curtail commercial development. Also, Congress has just approved legislation that restricts development on another 104 million acres in Alaska. Tightened enforcement of federal environmental rules and laws protecting endangered species or wildlife is further shrinking the amount of land available for farming, ranching, mining, and timbering. Compounding the squeeze are sharp population increases in most of the states of the region including growths in the last decade of 25.5 percent in Colorado, 38 percent in Arizona, 29 percent in Utah and 22 percent in New Mexico.

The real goals of the Sagebrush Rebellion

But, to his surprise, it soon became obvious that privatization was not the main issue of either the conference or the Sagebrush Rebellion. Anderson came away from the conference somewhat disillusioned, saying, "The rebellion was about getting more control of the federal estate and the accompanying federal expenditures than about ownership of the land.... In short, the issue [of privatization] was a non-starter because both environmentalists and commodity users thought they could get what they wanted for free through politics."

RIDING THE WAVE OF THE REAGAN REVOLUTION

The first manifestation of what is now popularly known as the Wise Use Movement occurred in 1979 in Nevada, the Sagebrush State. That year the Nevada Legislature enacted a law purporting to transfer ownership of and responsibility for all Federal Bureau of Land Management property within Nevada (some forty-eight million acres) to the state. Dubbed the Sagebrush Rebellion by the media and romanticized into an image of cowboys and ranchers pitted against monolithic government, this notion of states "reclaiming" federal land spread to Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Arizona, Alaska, and Oregon. The movement had struck a resonant chord in the "wide open spaces" mystique of the American West.

At its most basic level the Sagebrush Rebellion was a conservative backlash against the growth of federal power represented by, among other things, such landmark environmental legislation of the late 1960s and 1970s as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act. These legislative programs created new roles and concerns for managers of federal land -- protection of endangered species, water quality, air quality, etc. This required closer scrutiny of activities on federal lands, including the activities of miners, loggers and ranchers who operated there. Significantly, these businesses usually enjoyed substantial operating subsidies by virtue of long-standing below-market rates for grazing, mineral, and timber rights on federal land. This closer scrutiny inevitably led to federally imposed restrictions when mining, grazing and foresting practices damaged the water and air and threatened endangered species. Recognizing that a return to the good old days of less regulation would be good for business, the movement took support and comfort from the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan, one of whose campaign planks was reduction of the size and power of government. Certain Reagan cabinet appointees, most notably James Watt as Secretary of the Interior and Anne Gorsuch as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, were selected in part for their willingness to further the de-regulatory agenda of Reagan and the right wing of the Republican Party.


MULTIPLE-USE SUSTAINED-YIELD ACT OF 1960 (MUSY Doctrine)

Overview. This Act declares that the purposes of the national forest include outdoor recreation, range, timber, watershed, and fish and wildlife. The Act directs the Secretary of Agriculture to administer national forest renewable surface resources for multiple use and sustained yield.

Findings/Policy. The policy of Congress is that national forests are established and administered for outdoor recreation, range, timber, watershed, and fish and wildlife purposes. This Act is intended to supplement these purposes. The Act does not affect the jurisdiction or responsibilities of the states, the use or administration of the mineral resources of national forest lands, or the use or administration of federal lands not within the national forests. § 528.

Selected Definitions. Multiple use: management of all the renewable surface resources of the national forests to meet the needs of the American people. Sustained yield: achievement and maintenance of a high-level regular output of the renewable resources of the national forest without impairment of the land's productivity. § 531.

Authorization. The Secretary of Agriculture (Secretary) must develop and administer the renewable surface resources of the national forests for multiple use and sustained yield of the various products and services obtained from these areas. The Secretary must give appropriate consideration to the relative values of the resources of particular areas. The Act authorizes the Secretary to cooperate with interested state and local governmental agencies and others in developing and managing the national forests. §§ 529 and 530.


The 1964 Wilderness Act

WILDERNESS SYSTEM ESTABLISHED
STATEMENT OF POLICY

Sec. 2. (a) In order to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the United States and its possessions, leaving no lands designated for preservation and protection in their natural condition, it is hereby declared to be the policy of the Congress to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness. For this purpose there is hereby established a National Wilderness Preservation System to be composed of federally owned areas designated by Congress as "wilderness areas", and these shall be administered for the use and enjoyment of the American people in such manner as will leave them unimpaired for future use as wilderness, and so as to provide for the protection of these areas, the preservation of their wilderness character, and for the gathering and dissemination of information regarding their use and enjoyment as wilderness; and no Federal lands shall be designated as "wilderness areas" except as provided for in this Act or by a subsequent Act.

DEFINITION OF WILDERNESS

(c) A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain. An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this Act an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions and which (1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man's work substantially unnoticeable; (2) has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation; (3) has at least five thousand acres of land or is of sufficient size as to make practicable its preservation and use in an unimpaired condition; and (4) may also contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value.


The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969

(a) The Congress, recognizing the profound impact of man's activity on the interrelations of all components of the natural environment, particularly the profound influences of population growth, high-density urbanization, industrial expansion, resource exploitation, and new and expanding technological advances and recognizing further the critical importance of restoring and maintaining environmental quality to the overall welfare and development of man, declares that it is the continuing policy of the Federal Government, in cooperation with State and local governments, and other concerned public and private organizations, to use all practicable means and measures, including financial and technical assistance, in a manner calculated to foster and promote the general welfare, to create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony, and fulfill the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations of Americans.


NEPA requires Environmental Impact Statements (EIS)

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires federal agencies to integrate environmental values into their decision making processes by considering the environmental impacts of their proposed actions and reasonable alternatives to those actions. To meet this requirement, federal agencies prepare a detailed statement known as an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

EPA focuses on three main areas regarding NEPA compliance:

1. Coordinating EPA's review of all Environmental Impact Statements (EIS's) prepared by other federal agencies;

2. Maintaining a national EIS filing system and publishing weekly notices of EISs available for review and summaries of EPA's comments; and

3. Assuring that EPA's own actions comply with NEPA and other environmental requirements


NATIONAL FOREST MANAGEMENT ACT OF 1976

Overview. The National Forest Management Act re-organized, expanded and otherwise amended the Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974, which called for the management of renewable resources on national forest lands. The National Forest Management Act requires the Secretary of Agriculture to assess forest lands, develop a management program based on multiple-use, sustained-yield principles, and implement a resource management plan for each unit of the National Forest System. It is the primary statute governing the administration of national forests.

Findings/Policy. The Act contains numerous Congressional findings pertaining to the management of national forests, including: it is in the public interest for the Forest Service to assess the nation's public and private renewable resources and develop a national renewable resource program; to serve the national interest, the development of the renewable resource program must include a thorough analysis of environmental and economic impacts, coordination of multiple-use and sustained-yield, and public participation; the Forest Service has the responsibility and opportunity to assure a national natural resource conservation posture that will meet our citizens' needs in perpetuity; the knowledge derived from coordinated public and private research programs will promote a sound technical and ecological base for the effective management, use and protection of the nation's renewable resources. § 1600.

The policy of Congress is that all forested lands in the National Forest System are to be maintained for the maximum benefits of multiple-use, sustained-yield management. The Secretary must identify all lands in the national forest system that require re-forestation and treatment. This information must be transmitted to Congress annually along with an estimate of the funds needed to replant and otherwise treat all lands being cut over. The Secretary also must submit an annual report to Congress on the amounts, types, and use of herbicides and pesticides used on national forest lands.


Federal Land Policy and Management Act. (1976)

Section 102(a)(1) implemented the Commission's major policy recommendation by declaring it the policy of the United States that,

... the public lands be retained in Federal ownership, unless as a result of the land use planning procedure provided for in this Act, it is determined that disposal of a particular parcel will serve the national interest ....
With passage of FLPMA, Congress also repealed many of the land disposal laws enacted since the mid-19th century. One of the most important features of FLPMA is the requirement that BLM manage public lands for "multiple use:"

The term "multiple use" means the management of the public lands and their various resource values so that they are utilized in the combination that will best meet the present and future needs of the American people ....


The Real Issue in the Sagebrush Rebellion


In 1979, the Nevada state Legislature passed Assembly Bill 413 (later dubbed the Sagebrush Rebellion bill)...which claimed all Nevada land administered by the BLM as state property."

In 1979 and 1980, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah enacted bills similar to AB 413, with the Arizona legislature overriding Governor Bruce Babbit's veto. Wyoming also adopted a Sagebrush bill, which claimed both BLM and Forest Service lands. Colorado, Idaho, and Alaska passed legislation calling for feasibility studies of land transfers to the state.

At base, the Sagebrush Rebellion represented a protest against the growing influence of the environmental community...

Although the Reagan Administration did not effect a wholesale dismantling of environmental regulations, it did establish a policy tilt that paid renewed attention to the demands raised by the Sagebrush Rebels..

....R. McGrerror Cawley, "The Sagebrush
Rebellion and Environmental Politics" (1993)


In 1980, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch introduced Senate Bill 1680, a bill to transfer ownership of Federal Public Lands to the states...It authorized states to select any or all of the BLM lands, Forest Service, or wilderness areas within their boundaries.


Introduction to Wilderness at the Edge by Wallace Stegner

Historically, every western boom has been followed by bust. The economics of liquidation
-- get in, get rich, get out, or, more commonly, go out, go broke, go back -- has applied to fur, game, gold, timber, grass, oil, uranium. In the end it will prove to have applied to most irrigation agriculture as well.
The Public Domain, which east of the 100th meridian was quickly disposed of, found few takers in the West except hit-and-run takers, and little by little the federal government began to assume responsibility for it. Since 1872, when Congress created Yellowstone National Park, large areas have been protected from exploitation by being set aside as national parks, national forests, wilderness areas, wildlife refuges, and wild rivers. The BLM lands are the left-overs. For generations they remained open, nearly empty, available to almost any use people chose to make of them.

What I mean to say is that the Public Domain started as an assumption, a sort of squatters' rights assumption, and quickly became a habit that remains long after it is no longer valid. It existed before law, and law was slow to protect it. The laws that grew up within it, such as most water law and the mining law, were essentially the justification of appropriation, which was itself essentially tolerated trespass.

Surrounded by open space, Westerners got to feeling that it was theirs, because they used it freely. Many still feel that way, and de facto, they are right. Even now, anybody can stake out a mining claim on BLM land wherever he finds color, and can remove without fee any minerals he finds. Permittees can run cattle or sheep at cheap subsidized rates on both BLM and National Forest land, and their privileges over the years have hardened into vested rights, to be bought and sold along with the home ranch. Anybody can hunt, camp, ride, hike, drive an ORV or a dirt bike, almost anywhere on BLM land, and many assume the right to pot-hunt in Anasazi ruins and deface or steal whole panels of pictographs. If a local BLM man tries to keep livestock to the permitted numbers, or restrain pot-hunters and dirt bikers, he can be made very uncomfortable, can be harassed and threatened until the bureau transfers him to save him from violence, and replaces him with someone more willing to work with local interests.


The Lords of Yesterday

"These natural resources are governed by what I have come to think of as the "lords of yesterday, which are laws, policies, and ideas, not people....[They] are the controlling legal rules, usually coupled with extravagant subsidies, simply do not square with the economic trends, scientific knowledge, and social values in the modern West....These outmoded ideas pervade land and resource decision making in the West."
.....Charles Wilkinson, Crossing the Next Meridian

Five Lords of Yesterday

1. 1872 Hardrock Mining Law--which allows mining on the public land at no expense and even allows mining companies to buy land at $5.00 an acre if they have begun successful
mining operations.

2. The BLM allows grazing on over 170 million acres of public land at fees set at a fraction of their market value.

3.The Forest Service still encourages private logging in the public forests, building logging roads and making logging the primary use of the National Forests. The Forest Service pays more for the roads and logging efforts than
they get back in logging fees.

4. The Bureau of Reclamation encourages and supports the massive use of water for agriculture in the West, which has led to massive dam building and irrigation efforts that
are paid for by the general public to the benefit of agricultural interests.

5. Prior appropriation doctrine which allows senior water users to capture and exploit water rights at the expense of junior water users. These water rights-first in time, first in right--cannot be taken away unless the government pays full compensation.

.....Charles Wilkinson, Crossing the Next Meridian (1993)


Lamm, The Dark Riders

"Sagebrush comes into relief as what it really is -- a murky fusion of idealism and greed that may not be heroic, nor righteous, nor even intelligent. Only one certainty exists -- that Sagebrush is a revolt against federal authority, and that its taproot grows deep in the century's history. Beyond this, it is incoherent. Part hypocrisy, part demagoguery, partly the honest anger of honest people, it is a movement of confusion and hysteria and terrifyingly destructive potential. What it is no one fully understands. What it will do no one can tell."
(282)

"As the preceding chapter revealed, on one level the Rebellion is a legal movement on the part of the western states to reclaim land once considered theirs. On another it is simply a tactic to force more responsible federal regulation of the land. In one sense, it is a legal war against the federal government, its objective nothing less than the formal cession of the public lands to the states in which they lie. In another sense, it is not a war at all, and cession is not a goal. It is, instead, what Senator William Armstrong has called a "plea for attention" -- a political crusade mixed with hard talk and back-country demagoguery designed to force Washington into improved public-lands management." (282)

" What westerners forget -- what the image does not show -- is that every insurgent movement in western history has been anchored in self-interest and greed. They have softened the thought, translated greed into "civilizing" and "building," but that has not altered the fact that the idealized frontiersman often was a grasping, ambitious entrepreneur more interested in exploitation than in civilizing." (283)

"Nevada state senator Clifton Young has called the Rebellion a "combination of avarice, demagoguery, and animosity," and a Utah environmentalist has bluntly said that "the nervous smell of money hangs over everything the Sagebrush rebels do." This is the reality of Sagebrush. It is a cause for honest but misguided people. But it also is a cynical raid by selfish political and economic interests on public sanctuary in the name of the public good." (284)

"At the forefront of the Rebellion stand the Utah-based League for the Advancement of States' Equal Rights (LASER) and the thousand-member Sagebrush Rebellion, Incorporated, of Boise . They are flanked by the powerful Sagebrush senators and a handful of maverick western governors and state legislatures. But in the shadows, where the power lies, are large special economic interests." (286)

"As important as who they are is what they want -- and what they want is control of the public domain to their own ends. Warning westerners that "public land swindles are an old tradition" in the region, that "land grabbing is the oldest con game in the West," Governor Bruce Babbitt has said that "behind the mask the Sagebrush crowd is really nothing but a special-interest group whose real goal is to get public lands into private ownership, fenced off and locked up for private use." Others see the movement the same way. A consortium of conservation groups has branded the revolt the "Sagebrush rip-off, the latest in a long series of attempts by exploiters to rip off public property" for their own benefit." (287-88)

"In emotional terms, the grazing question is perhaps the single most legitimate aspect of the entire Sagebrush Rebellion. But in legal terms even it collapses. What angry stockmen forget -- or what they ignore -- is that the land is not theirs, that it never was, that it is doubtful that it ever will be. They forget they are dealing with a privilege, not a right, and that any public agency entrusted to manage the land would probably cause most of the same friction.

The stockmens' position is ironic. In the entire history of the public domain no group has received the benefits from it that they have. "

"In later years BLM became what the Forest Service was in earlier ones -- a puppet bureau dominated by large cattle interests. Scornful critics called it, and still do, the "Bureau of Livestock and Mining." Over the years, especially before FLPMA, when no one but stockmen wanted the public domain and no obvious reason existed to maintain it, BLM did little to administer it properly. It consistently overallotted it, undercharged for it, then routinely ignored the overgrazing that annihilated it. Over the years, de facto, western stockmen became the virtual owners of the public-domain range. And all with the support of the maligned BLM."

"In the past, BLM (and the early Forest Service before it) aided and abetted the process of destruction. But now, because of FLPMA and the 1974 court order to draw up environmental impact statements on 162 million acres of its range, it no longer can. It is BLM's new thrust that has led it into the grazing-reductions controversy and into the thicket of the Sagebrush Rebellion.

Reductions have hurt stockmen, and they will continue to. Restoration in some areas of the West will take fifteen years - and during all those years grazing cutbacks will be in effect."

"Which leads, again, to the final truth: that the land is not theirs to fight over in the first place, nor to do with as they please. Their use of it from the very beginning was a privilege. Now that it has been abused, it is both the right and the obligation of BLM to restrict the land's use until it can be repaired. To do anything less would be a violation of FLPMA."

"Preservation of the West's wild spaces has little value in the rip-and-run context of the Sagebrush Rebellion, and in recent years western insurgents have attacked the wilderness movement with all the fury they could muster. Much of the rhetoric of anti-wilderness has come from the countryside, from small ranches and small towns. From the heartland. From the people. " Nevada 's already got one wilderness," said an Elko man in 1980, "and as far as I'm concerned, that's one too many."

"Even were this not true, no moral, legal, or logical reason exists why every timber stand in the West should be open to cutting. From the beginning of this century timber cutters have laid a heavy hand on the West. Now they menace salmon and steelhead in the Payette and Boise national forests, and on the Clearwater they have invaded elk habitat. In the once-pristine Flathead National Forest they dis­rupt grizzly habitat. On the northern edge of Glacier National Park clear-cutting has left patches of desolation where majestic forests once stood. For too many years, in the name of the public good, lumberers have scarred the Rockies. Perhaps now it is time to stop, time to set aside someplace where they cannot go."

"No one disputes the idea that energy and mineral production are vital to the West and the nation. But the whole thrust of the industry's anti-wilderness position -- that wilderness expansion will destroy it -- is too simplistic to treat seriously. The argument assumes that most critical explorable mineral grounds lie in wilderness. It assumes that not enough recoverable mineral exists on the open public domain to sustain the industry should it lose access to wilderness. It assumes that mineral exploration is more vital to the public interest than wilderness. But at best the assumptions are weak."

"From the beginning of the nation's history, wilderness -- physical beauty, space, peace -- has been a tonic for urban man, a safety valve for urban pressures, an escape from the suffocating sameness of daily reality. No nation, no people, can long survive without it."

"If the Sagebrush interests argue, too, that wilderness has no practical value, they are wrong. It does. It protects wildlife habitat, filters air for the atmosphere, provides a natural laboratory for scientific study. It hatches fish, grazes cattle, protects geology and ecology alike, and still provides opportunity for mineral exploration. It generates tourism in parts of the West where little other economy exists. It protects precious watersheds and provides water for a waterless land. But most important of all, it provides man a balance to mechanized society. "

"For a fleeting moment the Rebellion basked in glory. The Reagan landslide gave it credibility. And Reagan's enviornmental and land officers - James G. Watt, Anne Gorsuch, Robert Burford, Steve Durham, all Coloradans with a right-of-center tilt - gave it further momentum. Senator William Armstrong said, "Up and down the line it's going to be a lot better. Reagan understands our problems." Coupled with the simultaneous emergence of the Sagebrush senators and the placement of nine of fourteen congressional chairmanships in western hands, the victory, for a moment, seemed stunningly decisive. Power, finally, seemed to be shifting. Said one western senator, "The West has some good days to look forward to."

And then the momentum stopped."

"The point is that by asserting, even flaunting, a regional independence that never existed, the proud West becomes the foolish West. Worse, by continuing to act today as though it still has no need for federal government, even as it continues to profit from federal largesse, it compounds its hypocrisy and undermines its credibility. "

"What it must do, first, is work toward the restoration of federalism, toward reconstruction of a system--Iong in decay--where states become equal partners with federal government. Western belligerence will not help. Nor will acquiescense to federal power. A spirit of moderation will."


R McGreggor Cawley, The Sagebrush Rebellion

"The Sagebrush Rebellion emerged in an arena reflecting at least three important structural changes brought about by the events of the 1960s and 1970s. First, the transformation of the BLM into a multiple use agency converted the earlier monolithic culture into a more competitive market....Second, legislative mandates and the redefinition of conservation served to provide land managers with real alternatives in making public land regulatory decisions. The train of events beginning with the 1964 Multiple-Use Classification Act and culminating in the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act offered conclusive evidence that grazing was no longer the dominant use of the public lands, even though the 1934 Taylor Grazing Act was never repealed.... Third, the Sagebrush Rebels, unlike their predecessors, had to confront the opposition of a national environmental movement . Although certainly not a monolithic force, environmentalists did maintain a relatively unified front in federal land policy discussions. And perhaps more important, environmentalists could buttress their claims by pointing to an apparent groundswell of public support for environmental concerns." (503)

"Historically, confrontations between the federal government and western states over land use decisions have followed a fairly predictable script. They usually begin with an aggressive assertion of national prerogative by the federal government that precipitates an equally aggressive assertion of states' rights. The political climate in the 1970s, then, made confrontation virtually inevitable. The rise of the environmental movement, in combination with the energy crisis, led to an expression of national prerogative that rivalled the activism of the early conservationists ." (505)

"On December 1, 1978, Carter invoked the Antiquities Act of 1906 to set aside 56 million acres as seventeen new national monuments in Alaska.. This classification barred all development activity on the land unless Congress subsequently removed it from national monument status. . . . In one set of proclamations, Carter doubled the area of the national park system by adding a land mass roughly the size of Minnesota .

Not surprisingly, Alaskans were less than receptive. As one disgruntled Alaskan exclaimed: "Environmentalists have infiltrated the government too far. And now those park planner parasites are locking up Alaska as wilderness for mankind. They want food for the soul. We need food for the body. The federal government has always acted like a foreign power up here. " . . . In contrast, the environmental community's reaction was perhaps best summarized by Edgar Wayburn's assertion: "The President's quick and decisive actions place him in history as the greatest conservation president of our time." (507)

" Stockgrowers and mining interests opposed the [MX missile basing] system because it would restrict access to large areas of the public lands far more effectively than wilderness designation. Environmentalists objected to the long-term, perhaps permanent, destruction of the desert's fragile ecosystems. State and local officials recited the familiar litany of socioeconomic impacts associated with the boom conditions the system would bring. And everyone wanted to know where the air force intended to get the water needed both for construction and operation of the system." (507)

"The November, 1980, LASER conference program read like an inventory of the issues and interests that characterized the Sagebrush Rebellion. One set of panel discussions served as a forum for grazing, mineral, timber, recreation, and other public land user interests to voice complaints about federal management policies. Another set offered legal, political, and economic arguments in support of state ownership of the federal public lands. In his keynote address, Hatch told the participants that they were involved in an event of "great historical significance," an event, he argued, that "will constitute the major factor in the political and economic future of the West." But after the LASER conference, history seemed to be repeating itself." (507-8)

"Whether or not the Sagebrush Rebels' view of events during the I970s represented an accurate assessment, they believed it did. Summarizing that view, Nevada State Senator Richard Blakemore argued:

For many years, the public domain was open to ranching, mining, and outdoor recreation. But a number of federal acts, passed to protect and conserve the environment, have closed great parts of the public domain to traditional uses. Westerners see these restrictions in the use of the public lands as a portent of things to come -- that eventually most of today's public lands will be locked up in wilderness or other restrictive uses .

The question, then, was how to articulate these complaints within the political landscape of the late I970s. " (508)

Sagebrush Rebels Claimed to Support State Management of the Publiic Lands

The Sagebrush Rebels' assurances that state ownership would not alter the fundamental character of public land management created something of a quandary for their opponents. If the states embarked on a full-fledged multiple use management program, then conveyance represented far less of a threat than critics charge.
Indeed, guarantees of protection for wilderness and other environmental values contained in both the Western Lands Act and bills under consideration by the state legislatures seemed to affirm the Sagebrush Rebels' sincerity. The major change brought about by conveyance appeared to be simply the relocation of the conflict from the nation's capital to the various state capitals. But opponents realized this move carried other implications... . (511)

"Another objection raised by opponents proved more troublesome for the Sagebrush Rebels -- the cost of managing public lands. Assuming the states were willing to mount a full-fledged multiple use program, critics asked, would they also be willing to appropriate the funds necessary for the program? This was an appropriate question to ask in light of the traditional fiscal conservatism of western legislatures and the developing national tax revolt, exemplified by California voters' approval of Proposition 13 in 1979... " (511

"The likely future of the Sagebrush Rebellion, Rhoads concluded, lay in the direction of "piecemeal legislation, administrative actions, executive orders, and revamping of regulations," all geared to addressing the grievances underlying the movement. Conveyance, either through court or congressional action, no longer seemed to be the dominant goal of the Sagebrush Rebellion."
(512)

"Reagan's open support for the movement combined with his equally open criticism of environmental regulation in general created a potentially devastating blow to opponents of the Sagebrush Rebellion. If Reagan fulfilled his campaign promises, the argument that federal management would be more sympathetic to environmental concerns than state management no longer carried the certainty it had before the election." (512)

"Thus it is clear why the Sagebrush Rebels were willing to set aside conveyance in favor of less dramatic policy adjustments. Indeed, the root complaint raised by public land users during the 1970s was that federal land managers consistently interpreted federal management policies as a call for environmental protection. Thus, a sympathetic secretary of Interior could accomplish a great deal by simply altering the interpretation of existing laws and policies. And this became a reality when President Reagan announced that James Watt was his choice for secretary of the Interior." (513)

"Affirming that he was "part of the Sagebrush Rebellion," Watt maintained that the conveyance effort was a "waste of money." The cause of the controversy, he argued, was a Department of Interior that had bceome almost hostile to many interests of the West ." Watt admitted, "BLM has a right to dictate how leased federal lands should be used, but BLM goes beyond that, dictating to the land user how he must use the state-leased lands, and private land he owns or leases. Watt argued that: "The goal of his administration, then, would be to "manage [the public] lands as a good neighbor ... and let the Sagebrush Rebellion die because of friendly relations." .. . (513)

Reagan's Real Property Initiative

"On the face of it, the Reagan aministration's Federal Real Property Initiative (the so-called privatization initiative) contained several obvious problems...And it was not clear who might be interested in buying federal property. As Christopher Leman explained: "Western state and local governments went on record against the idea. Environmental, conservation, and recreation groups -- including wilderness advocates, hunters, and off-road vehicle enthusiasts -- achieved an unprecedented unity in opposition. Not a single major commodity sector supported privatization. In short, the privatization initiative appeared to be an ill-conceived proposal, lacking any identifiable political support. It is not at all surprising, therefore, that the scheme produced more rhetoric than revenue, and consequently, was quickly abandoned by the administration..." (515).

"Recognizing the common threat posed by privatization, environmentalists and Sagebrush Rebels set aside their other disagreements in order to oppose it. Furthermore, the growing split within the Reagan Administration led Watt to emphasize his role as spokesman the New Right over his role as spokesman for the Sagebrush Rebellion. Although these moves succeeded in defeating the privatization effort, they left most of the issues surrounding the Sagebrush Rebellion unresolved." (515)

"At base, the Sagebrush Rebellion represented a protest against the growing influence of the environmental community. Although the Reagan administration did not effect a wholesale dismantling of environmental regulations, it did establish a policy tilt that paid renewed attention to the demands raised by the Sagebrush Rebels.. .Lacking sufficient support to eliminate objectionable environmental policies, the administration was able to slow the environmental movement's momentum." (516)

"The intervention of privatization and radical environmentalism illustrated the altered structure of the policy dialogue even more clearly than the argument over conservation. Indeed, the convention of portraying public land disputes as confrontations between development interests and preservation interests simply failed to capture the complexity of conflicts involving Sagebrush Rebels, privatization advocates, radical environmentalists, and the environmental establishment. " (516)

"Ron Arnold, executivee-president of CDFE and the driving force behind the "Wise Use Movement", claims that the inspiration for the movement's name came from Gifford Pinchot's insistence that conservation meant the "wise use of resources." Arnold resists characterizations that portray the Wise Use Movement as the "Sagebrush Rebellion in a new suit of clothes," because in his view, the movement "is much broader and deeper than a temper tantrum over public lands thrown by a handful of Nevada cowboys." The Wise Use Agenda , which defines the unifying philosophy of the movement, outlines a far more diverse and sophisticated set of demands than the Sagebrush Rebels' call for conveyance of federal lands to the states. " (517)

"The Sagebrush Rebellion marked the beginning of a period in which virtually every assumption about federal land policy underwent challenge and reconsideration. To be sure, the major assumptions--that public lands should remain in federal ownership and that they should be managed under the mandates enacted in the 1960s and 1970s--were re-affirmed by this process." (517)


 | Home Page  | Readings  | Web Resources | Syllabus  | Top of Page |

   Number of Visitors to this site:  20423                   by Chris H. Lewis, Ph.D.

© 2000 by Chris H.  Lewis, Ph.D.
Sewall Academic Program; University of Colorado at Boulder
Created 1 June 2000:  Last Modified: 3 April, 2009
E-mail: cclewis@spot.colorado.edu
URL:    http://www.colorado.edu/AmStudies/lewis/west/lords.htm