Federal oversight in local matters is at the top of the list of what ignites the fury of the Republican base. Rants of socialism and even communism permeate the atmosphere at boisterous gatherings where right-wing extremists extol the disaster America faces unless we get Uncle Sam off our backs.
Cliven Bundy became an instant hero when he told the Bureau of Land Management where to stick its grazing fees. His posse taught the feds a lesson as assault-rifle-toting commandos trained their itchy trigger fingers on anyone wearing federal insignia. Others undoubtedly kept their eyes skyward for the anticipated approach of black helicopters.
Bundy hosted his victory speech in the driveway of his ranch shortly after his self-proclaimed triumph in forcing the BLM to back down from confiscating his cattle. Striking a chord with his white-supremacist admirers, he commented on the deplorable living conditions of blacks living off the dole in north Las Vegas. He wondered if they might not have been better off remaining slaves and picking cotton.
Bundy probably believes the Civil War was just another example of unwarranted federal intrusion. If Abraham Lincoln had understood the devastation he caused by overriding the popular will of the Southern states, white farmers could still enjoy cheap labor, and blacks would be far more content in the security offered by bondage.
Back home in Salt Lake City, after failing in an all-out assault to deny Medicaid coverage to low-income Utahns under the Affordable Care Act, Utah Speaker of the House Becky Lockhart co-hosted the Legislative Summit on the Transfer for Public Lands, where 50 leaders from nine states gathered to plot ways to return control of federal lands to Western states.
Questioned about the ongoing confrontation between Bundy and the BLM, Lockhart told The Salt Lake Tribune, “What’s happened in Nevada is really just a symptom of a much larger problem.” I assume she was referring to what she considers the unrighteous dominion over public land better returned to state supervision. Apparently, righteous indignation by patriots like Bundy is to be expected if something isn’t done soon.
I wonder if Lockhart is equally unfazed by the recent ATV ride through Recapture Canyon. The show of civil disobedience, led by San Juan County commissioner Phil Lyman, was orchestrated for the purpose of defying BLM regulations prohibiting motorized desecration of public cultural sites. Is it possible she considers violating federal law in this instance as nothing worse than an inevitable symptom of federal overreach? Does she believe that confrontations like these would disappear if Utah legislators were running the show?
I worked as an administrative officer for the BLM district office in Kanab for 2 1/2 years in the early 1970s. Trying to implement a fair and credible multiple-use policy was our constant goal. We employed dedicated specialists uniquely trained in every aspect of responsible land management. We readily solicited input from competing interest groups, but felt beholden to none. I considered us independent professionals whose sole intention was to provide an all-inclusive resolution to the challenge of best utilizing a limited resource.
I also recall the utter serenity of hiking pristine BLM areas only to be rudely interrupted by ATV riders incessantly revving their obnoxious engines. That pretty much ruined what up to that point had been a peaceful interaction with the best that Mother Nature has to offer.
What exactly is it that encourages states like Utah to promote an increase in state taxes to manage public lands when Uncle Sam is already footing the bill? Would state-trained professionals be superior to federal workers? I doubt that. So, what’s the motive for making the change?
When in doubt, follow the money trail. Could it be that the feds are stifling expanded fossil-fuel development? Are they overly sensitive when it comes to protecting ancient cultural sites? Don’t they realize that encouraging the sale and rental of motorized vehicles would be a boon to business? And, of course, all motorized visitors would act responsibly. Yeah, you bet. Let the ATVs rip!
Fossil-fuel profiteers may argue that state funds required to manage a public-land takeover would be offset by new taxes generated by the oil & gas industry. I lived in east Texas for 10 years, and the sight of abandoned oil-well locations was evident at every turn of the road. I can only imagine what it was like when the oil boom was in full operation, with countless tanker trucks clogging the highways. I imagine potential tourists opted to stay clear of the mayhem.
Having toured many of the top tourist locations in the world, I can’t help but think that Utah might one day find itself at the top of the list. What a shortsighted mistake it would be to risk diminishing the unique quality of lands now fully protected under federal control. Maintaining that proven commitment to environmental concerns distinguishes Utah as a premier tourist attraction.
Let’s not rock the boat. We’ve got a good deal in Utah as things stand. Lockhart and Lyman might consider moving to Nevada.