How do states treat the lands they own?

An investigation into state land management, to better understand what’s at stake in federal land transfers.

 

One of the planks in the Republican platform calls for the transfer of an undisclosed number of acres of federal public lands to Western states. This land transfer, the party argues, would benefit states “and the nation as a whole,” because “residents of state and local communities know best how to protect the land where they work and live.” It is unclear how the transfer of public lands would benefit the entire country, but it seems to me that such a transfer on any scale would change the character of the American West.

Given that, and given that the GOP holds the Oval Office and both chambers of Congress, the so-called “land-transfer movement” is worthy of a hard look. Over the last nine months, this magazine set out to learn what it could about how states treat the lands they already have, in order to see whether the public would benefit from a transfer. Writer and former HCN intern Emily Guerin went to North Dakota to see what happens to state and federal parks under an oil boom, while Contributing Editor Cally Carswell investigated how rare plants are treated on different lands in New Mexico. And we spent many long hours analyzing the policies of Western states when it comes to land use.

The bottom line is that land generally fares worse under state management. And even if local constituencies do know best how to protect the land, they ultimately have less say in how state land is used. I come from two families of High Plains homesteaders, and I understand the value of public lands, where we hunted, fished, gathered wood and camped. I’d hate to see them leased, sold or otherwise lost to the highest bidder.

Federal lands belong to all of us, but they came at a high price. They were the product of the expansion of the United States, much to the disadvantage of Indigenous populations who had no say in how the lands were disposed. The West was seized through war, treachery and a doctrine of greed, and then divvied out to a mostly white population, who gained tremendous capital from its resources. That’s why any decision we make about the public lands now should be made with the greatest good in mind, not the continued financial benefit of a single class of people.

The West’s vast landscapes are more than just a source of wealth. They are a place for contemplation and beauty, of restoration and bounty. They are the last vestige of the American frontier, a reminder of our brutal, bloody past as well as a sign of our hope for a healthy future. And they are not to be taken — or given away — lightly.

 

High Country News Classifieds
  • POLICY DIRECTOR - FRIENDS OF THE INYO
    Seeking Policy Director to lead our policy programs to ensure the health/vibrancy of CA's Inyo/Mono Co. public lands. FT or PT. Remote OK but frequent...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Friends of the San Juans (Friends), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is seeking an experienced, passionate, and charismatic environmental leader to continue its strong community leadership...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT, ARIZONA CHAPTER
    What We Can Achieve Together: Arizona's Director of Development (DoD) is responsible for directing all aspects of one or more development functions, which will secure...
  • CAPACITY BUILDING PROGRAM MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Capacity Building Program Manager works directly with the business unit's Arizona Healthy Cities Program Director to advance the Healthy...
  • MEMBERSHIP AND OFFICE MANAGER - FRIENDS OF THE INYO
    Friends of the Inyo - Donor database management & reporting, IT/HR, and office administrative support. PT or FT. Partly remote OK but some in-office time...
  • NORTHERN NEW MEXICO PROJECT MANAGER
    New Mexico Land Conservancy is seeking a qualified Northern New Mexico Project Manager to provide expertise, leadership and support to the organization by planning, cultivating,...
  • GRAPHIC AND DIGITAL DESIGNER
    Application deadline: December 17, 2022 Expected start date: January 16, 2023 Location: Amazon Watch headquarters in Oakland, CA Amazon Watch is a dynamic nonprofit organization...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eugene, Ore. nonprofit Long Tom Watershed Council is seeking a highly collaborative individual to lead a talented, dedicated team of professionals. Full-time: $77,000 - $90,000...
  • GIS SPECIALIST
    What We Can Achieve Together: The GIS Specialist provides technical and scientific support for Geographic Information System (GIS) technology, data management, and visualization internally and...
  • LOWER SAN PEDRO PROGRAM MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Lower San Pedro Program Manager directs some or all aspects of protection, science, stewardship and community relations for the...
  • FOREST RESTORATION SPATIAL DATA MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Forest Restoration Spatial Data Manager fills an integral role in leading the design and development of, as well as...
  • WATER PROJECTS MANAGER, SOUTHERN AZ
    What We Can Achieve Together: Working hybrid in Tucson, AZ or remote from Sierra Vista, AZ or other southern Arizona locations, the Water Projects Manager,...
  • SENIOR STAFF THERAPIST/PSYCHOLOGIST: NATIVE AMERICAN STUDENT SPECIALIST
    Counseling Services is a department strategically integrated with Health Services within the Division of Student Services and Enrollment Management. Our Mission at the Counseling Center...
  • THE NATURE CONSERVANCY IS HIRING A LOCAL INITIATIVES COORDINATOR
    The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming seeks a Local Initiatives Coordinator to join our team. We're looking for a great communicator to develop, manage and advance...
  • LAND AND WATER PROTECTION MANAGER - NORTHERN ARIZONA
    We're Looking for You: Are you looking for a career to help people and nature? Guided by science, TNC creates innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our...
  • SENIOR CLIMATE CONSERVATION ASSOCIATE
    The Greater Yellowstone Coalition (GYC) seeks a Senior Climate Conservation Associate (SCCA) to play a key role in major campaigns to protect the lands, waters,...
  • CORTEZ COLORADO LOT FOR SALE
    Historic tree-lined Montezuma Ave. Zoned Neighborhood Business. Build your dream house or business right in the heart of town. $74,000. Southwest Realty
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.
  • STRAWBALE HOME BESIDE MONTEZUMA WELL NAT'L MONUMENT
    Straw Bale Home beside Montezuma Well National Monument. Our property looks out at Arizona fabled Mogollon Rim and is a short walk to perennial Beaver...
  • ATTORNEY AD
    Criminal Defense, Code Enforcement, Water Rights, Mental Health Defense, Resentencing.