Letters

Western Wrangle

I was surprised to find that Nye County, Nevada, was "Twelve hundred miles to the west" of Denver ("Storm Over the Rockies," June ). This would place it several hundred miles to the west of San Franciscoin the Pacific Ocean. Makes me wonder. Was this piece written before the elder Karl died, or was it channeled through this upstart namesake? I understand that distances aren't quite as important to those who have traveled into the great beyond. So which is it?
Lawrence M. Ludlow
San Diego, CA

In Karl Hess's Jr.'s dissertation, he is obviously attempting to foment violence and discontent because his "studies" are contradictory and misleading. However, they do prove the point that the West is ethically correct in opposing federal management.

From his own research, Mr. Hess says that the government is wasting large amounts of tax payer money by subsidizing cattlemen and range maintenance. In the same breath, Mr. Hess says that the cattlemen are resisting federal intervention. Who is the bigger fool here: Mr. Hess for believ ing the federal government is subsidizing the cattlemen, or the cattlemen for wanting to throw the feds out and lose all of that free subsidy money?

You can't have it both ways, Mr. Hess. If we eliminate the feds, then, according to your re search, the taxpayers will save in excess of $200 million a year and the cattlemen will suffer a loss. If you support continued federal management then you obviously support higher taxes for the gen eral public.

Most of those tax dollars are spent on administering an ever-expanding bureaucracy and not on the citizens. If you are really affiliated with the Cato Institute, you should know this. So what's your real reason for creating this false premise and possibly instigating unnecessary violence, where peaceful solutions are available?
Jack Vogt, Chairman
William Wright, Ben Colvin,
Larry Dowers, Ken Polman,
Tim Brown, Durk Pearson
Esmeralda County Public Lands Advisory Commission
Esmeralda County, NV

Karl Hess cites my book, Storm Over Rangeland s, as having considerable influence in the current Western land debate and the revived "sagebrush rebellion."

I believe Mr. Hess misses the main point underlying the controversy. The standard answer to concerns about our soaring national deficit used to be: "The national deficit is collateralized by our national assets." These national assets, it was explained, consisted primarily of vast acreages of "public" lands in the Western states and Alaska. These lands contained far more wealth in mineral, grazing, and timber resources than the total of our deficit. We were assured by those "Keynesian" economists that the people of the United States need not fear our national debts or deficits.

The Western federal rangelands, often referred to erroneously as "public" lands, grew out of economic necessity dictated by a huge Civil War debt. Westward expansion before the Civil War had followed the Jeffersonian concept of absolute privatization. Absolute title was conveyed from the government to individuals through the patent.

Jeffersonians correctly argued that a free society depended on the wealth of the nation being owned by the people as individuals and private associations of people. All wealth originates in the land.

The $2.8 billion Civil War debt owed primarily to European bankers and bondholders turned U.S. policy from land privatization to one of land retention. Instead of conveying all Western lands to the individuals who had settled on them, the national government withheld its underlying owner ship and used that interest to collateralize our national debt.

The original acts of nationalization were intended to extinguish the private rights that settlers had acquired according to state law. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1907 (Kansas v. Colorado) that the creation of national forests did not extinguish state sovereignty or the property created under state law, an opinion which has consistently been upheld by the high court since.

The real controversy underlying the current Western land debate is only a continuation of this century-plus-old conflict. If private individuals own property right interests in these unpatented federal lands, it raises the questions: Has Congress mortgaged something they didn't own? As long as those questions remain unsettled, our international creditors have just cause for concern. A 1984 report from the Department of Interior to the House Appropriations Committee elucidated this aspect of the problem: "The water right is the property of the permittee (rancher), over which the BLM [Bureau of Land Management] (federal government) exercises no more control than the sale of a box of soap in the marketplace" (parentheses mine).

The constant attack on Western ranchers, loggers, and miners is an attempt to extinguish private property rights without compensation. If all the private split-estate rights owned by resource producers in the West could be sewn back into one whole cloth of government ownership, the collat eral value of these nationalized lands would be greatly enhanced. Where direct attempts to extin guish these property rights without compensation have been restrained by the courts, extinction through strangling regulations has succeeded to a large degree. Many Westerners have abandoned their property rights in federal land rather than bear the burden and expense of protracted court battles.

Attacking the citizens of the sparsely populated West makes sense politically. Recent attempts by government to gain control of property rights on the patented lands of the Eastern two-thirds of the country have raised many red flags. Politicians are acutely aware that the current property rights movement in the United States is largely a response to the taking of private property in the urban East through the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, and the high-handed tactics of the Environmental Protection Agency and Corps of Engineers.

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