Storm Over the Rockies

The West is at war with itself.


By every barometer of change, a storm is gathering over the Rockies. At a public-lands meeting in Denver, a Stetson-hatted, lizard-booted reincarnation of Patrick Henry excites a roomful of public-land ranchers and miners to a raucous, standing ovation. Flanked by fife and drum players in 1776 garb, the tall, lanky cowboy juts his weathered, angular chin out in defiance, points an accusing finger at an imagined, bigger-than-life federal bureaucrat and proudly proclaims, "This land is our land, not yours."

Twelve hundred miles to the west, county commissioners emboldened with visions of immortality test the waters of rebellion and independence in Nye County, Nevada. They put their John Hancocks on a document declaring that the federal lands in their county are by constitutional right the property of Nevada and by custom and culture the charge of local citizens. A thousand miles southeast in Catron County, New Mexico, a rabble-rousing rancher dares the Forest Service to take—as it has threatened to do—just one cow off his leased public lands. He is certain he can count on his neighbors if the agency is loco enough to try. But just in case, stuck in the back of his frayed and faded Levi jeans is a loaded .44-caliber Magnum.

The West is at war. For now, volleys of angry, bitter words are what shatter the silence of deserts, prairies, and canyons. But the line between words and bullets is fuzzy in a part of the country where emotions run as big and volatile as the land itself. It is only a matter of time before a nervous Forest Service ranger fires in self-defense against a crowd of enraged stockmen or an aggrieved cowboy takes the ultimate act of revenge in a moment of passion. War is here. The only question is, Who is the enemy? Who is the West really fighting?

High Noon on the Western Range

By all rights, it must be the federal government. It's as clear as right and wrong in the archetypal West. On one side are the outnumbered good guys, the white-hatted few and brave whose principles triumph over evil against impossible odds. On the other side are the bad guys, the black-hatted many and contemptible whose lack of principles is their chief undoing. It's High Noon, Shane, and Pale Rider rolled into one: the lone cowboy, the underdog, in all his mythic glory facing down an evil and all-powerful force—a federal establishment of faceless bureaucrats and oppressive laws and regulations. It's the kind of imagery that draws our sympathies and on which most of us were weaned. It's a picture that makes good, common sense.

Look at the numbers and consider the odds. The federal government, not the winsome cowboy, is the classic land monopolist of western folklore. Half the West is owned lock, stock, and barrel by the feds, and in states like Idaho, Utah, California, and Nevada, Uncle Sam is the majority landlord. Making matters worse, the feds—like the evil land barons of Hollywood legend—are gobbling up more western land by the tens of thousands of acres every year, often by ruthless means.

Look at resources. The grazing budgets alone of the two western land-managing agencies—the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management—are so large that they could buy out every public-land ranch in the West at fair market value over a period of four years. Look at the rules that govern public-land ranching. In the past quarter century alone, the pages of laws, regulations, and policies promulgated by Uncle Sam have come to dwarf the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Look at the numbers of people. The 28,000 men and women who ranch in the federal West are outnumbered by just the Forest Service and BLM employees who watchdog the people's land.

If there is a bigger-than-life western, it's got to be the public-land West. It's a tale as old as the republic, a story that recounts in a hundred ways the nation's epic struggles with big government. In the 1830s, John C. Calhoun fought to have federal lands ceded to the states in order to weaken the escalating power of the federal government. During the 1890s, western stockmen were up in arms over the federal government's decision (later reversed) to close forest reserves to grazing. Twenty years later, western governors, spurred on by regional anger over federally imposed grazing fees, demanded title to federal lands. At the cusp of the Great Depression, as ranchers and the Forest Service reached a standoff, President Hoover sought reconciliation by offering to transfer federal surface rights to the western states—an offer subsequently refused by western governors because it did not include mineral rights.

After World War II, western anger over federal domination seethed again, reaching the boiling point over federal grazing fees and culminating finally in a Senate bill to privatize the American West. The bill died a quiet death, though, largely because Congress bought off proponents of privatization with a 25-year federal spending spree to improve and restore federal rangelands for cattle and sheep. The Carter years brought the next showdown between ranchers and bureaucrats. Four years of mounting environmental regulation and expanded federal meddling in western affairs exploded in the celebrated Sagebrush Rebellion. By 1980, a half dozen western states were passing statutes that made claim to federal lands, and the West's 28,000 public-land ranchers were at the verge of armed conflict with the federal agencies. Reagan administration Interior Secretary James Watt, however, defused western resentment with a "good neighbor" policy aimed at resurrecting the status quo rather than privatizing the western range.

Sagebrush Rebellion II, affectionately called Son-of-Sage by friends and foes alike, is underway today, sparked not by Clinton's green brigades but by the environmental legacy of the Bush years—such as "no net loss of wetlands." Today, it is simply amplified by the much-hated programs of Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, including his ill-fated attempt to increase federal grazing fees. Like past rebellions, it is a regional response to federal domination of local interests. And like the battles waged since the 1890s, it is led by the West's aristocratic elite—the romantic and mythical cowboys and ranchers whose social, political, and economic standing make them heirs apparent to the plantation aristocracy that ruled the South from Jefferson to Lee.

They are the symbols of the West, the bearers of the region's landed wealth and the elder spokesmen of a day and age when cattle were still king. They are the last western heroes, the ears that listen for the faint whistle of the 12 o'clock train and the eyes that count the minutes and seconds to High Noon.

Cowboys in a Federal West

So much for what we would like to believe. It's inspiring on the movie screen, it makes awfully good reading, but it's simply not good history. The American West, and its perennial wars with the federal government, cannot be summed up in a good guy/bad guy melodrama; the facts are more complicated than myths and symbols would suggest. What is set forth by sagebrush rebels as a war of liberation from a domineering federal government may, in fact, be nothing more than a regional feud among warring siblings over which pampered child gets the federal spoils. Indeed, the West that we envision as wild and independent, as a refuge for the values that made America great, may, in truth, be nothing more than a federal creation—a legend bought and paid for with national taxpayer dollars.

To understand the West, we must understand how the West differs from the eastern half of the nation in both the origins of its settlement and the causes of its economic growth. Up until the Civil War, life in the Old West—the nonslave lands that lay at the western edges of the original northern and mid-Atlantic states—followed the rhythms set by market forces and the guideposts decreed by a fierce commitment to individual rights and private property. Settlement, land use, and productive enterprise were mostly the products of Adam Smith's invisible hand. Government meddling, particularly federal subsidies, was present, but only in the smallest of doses.

The New West, particularly the arid regions alongside and west of the Continental Divide, followed a different drummer. From the very start after the Civil War, the federal government orchestrated and controlled land settlement, land use, and productive enterprise in the Great American Desert. First, the U.S. cavalry created a clean slate in Lockean terms by removing Native Americans from lands intended for white settlers. (Native Americans in the Old West faced injustice too, but not the unabashed campaign of genocide made possible by a battle-hardened army.) Next, the cavalry built a network of military forts, many of which provided the nucleus of new markets to sustain marginal homesteads and struggling territorial governments. With the forts in place, settlers were then free to move westward, but with one caveat: They had to follow the scripts set by the Homestead Act of 1862 and all subsequent land settlement statutes.

To make a long story short, under the rules set by politicians and ideologues in Washington, the West was never completely settled. In fact, not much more than a third of the West ever made it into private ownership. The bulk was kept by the federal government, with smaller parcels handed out to Indian reservations and state governments. By 1900, what was kept out of private hands by the feds teetered on the brink of environmental collapse: Forests were stripped of cover, rangelands were razed to the ground, and wildlife was decimated. On both private and public properties in the West, land and life (human and nonhuman) suffered immeasurably from decades of ecologically and economically perverse and destructive federal policies.

Today, the public-land West, the cause and cause célèbre of the region's standing war, is the ward and the mistress of the Forest Service and the BLM. But federal ownership, as one might guess, has not cured the ills that have plagued the region since first settlement. Defying the power of markets and logic, Congress and the land agencies have evolved a system of deficit logging and grazing that matches the worst excesses of centralized planning in the old Soviet Union.

Forests that gods themselves would find difficult and unprofitable to harvest are flagged and marked by Forest Service timber cruisers. And rangelands that have a market value of $30 per acre, and a forage value measured in cents, are treated like Manhattan real estate. Billions have been spent to turn them into Cadillac grazing fields, all for the sake of pushing the public lands' beef contribution to the nation from a paltry 3 percent to a skyrocketing 3 percent plus a small fraction. In the process, forests and rangelands with marketable values for recreation, water, and wildlife have been mindlessly clear-cut and overgrazed in the name of multiple-use management—the federal ruse for centralized planning.

This is where things begin to get sticky, and where the sagebrush argument starts to fall apart. When viewed in retrospect, the West has done remarkably well at the trough of federal beneficence. Not only did the feds pave the way for western settlement and industry, they also paid most of the bill for making the West livable and desirable.

They built the most inefficient and costly fire-fighting force on the face of the earth—that of the Forest Service—to protect individuals and communities foolish enough to build in the paths of natural fire. They constructed a system of water-holding and power-generating dams that in size and cost are among the great monuments to and wonders of the modern nation-state. Dams destroyed the legendary salmon runs of the past and turned the mighty Columbia, Colorado, Missouri, and Rio Grande rivers into shining examples of federal regulation and control, bringing subsidized crops to lands that were once desert and subsidized cities to places where once only buzzards dared to dwell.

The American West in all its magnificence was built on federal dollars. The interstate highway system that connects one patch of desert to another happened only because federal dollars flowed easily. Employment in the West skyrocketed because waterless shipyards were built on the arid plains of Colorado, because air force bases, scientific labs, and federal centers mushroomed overnight, because a slew of federal bureaus provided enough jobs to keep rural outposts from becoming ghost towns, because 10 times as many defense dollars were spent in the West as in the rest of the nation, and because 10 western states representing 9 percent of the nation's population controlled a fifth of the votes in the U.S. Senate.

What has happened to the West as a region has also happened to the public lands, though in more exaggerated proportions. The men and women who now lead the western rebellion against big government, and who openly defy federal authority on their ranches and in their communities, have built their empires on federal protection and federal dollars. For the better part of this century, the public-land West has been a government-created land-use monopoly reserved for less than 1 percent of the nation's citizenry. Outside of a recreational hike in the woods or a sporting hunt in the great outdoors, most Americans are precluded from using federal lands in an economic way. Simply put, private individuals can make money from public land only by turning its grass into beef, its trees into lumber, and its mountains into mounds of processed rock.

Since most of us don't want to be ranchers, loggers, or miners, we're stuck. We can't compete with traditional uses and users on public lands by doing nontraditional things like marketing recreation, wildlife, and wilderness for a profit. It's the law of the old West—the rule of beneficial use that dictates that government, not markets, should set what can and cannot be done with western resources. Applied to public-land ranchers, the law of beneficial use has made grazing the dominant use on federal lands and, for some people, the most hated use.

Public-land ranchers can't be entrepreneurs; they must be stockmen. Whether they want to or not, they must graze their grass to hold onto their grazing permits. They can't fence off a desert stream from cattle to grow trout and collect fees for fishing; they can't use the grass they lease to raise bull elk to meet the insatiable demand of sportsmen for a once-in-a-lifetime trophy hunt; they can't set aside wildflowers to attract a variety of rare birds for paid bird watching; and they can't turn their grazing allotments into centers of potentially profitable eco-tourism.

By law, ranchers must treat federal lands as bovine buffets and livestock watering holes. "Use it or lose it" is the axiom here in the West. But that's not what rankles some people the most. What stirs the ire of environmentalists, recreationists, and sportsmen is that the federal government not only mandates grazing as a quasi-monopoly land use, but it helps ranchers to do it at levels that nature in its wisdom and economics in its prudence would never allow. Through myriad programs and subsidies, the federal government has made sure that cattle stay king on the western range, that free markets and the wishes of consumers do not get in the way of a century-long experiment in the social and scientific engineering of the American West.

Pampered Cows

Only government in its infinite wisdom and resources could have created the means to make livestock raising in an inhospitable land a venture that is all but sanitized of risks. This has nothing to do with the so-called low, subsidized grazing fees charged to public-land ranchers. By spending $10 million since 1985 to study "fair-market grazing fees," the Forest Service and the BLM have lavishly yet inadvertently proven what reasonable people have known for several centuries—that government-set fees, however disguised as market equivalents, are still political, not market, outcomes. They are worth no more than the stock we place in the wisdom of the political process.

Pampered cows on the public range come about because of other, more real and harmful subsidies—federal programs that protect stockmen from both nature and themselves. Many of the programs apply to all ranchers, public and private, but their ecological impact (in terms of overgrazing) and their political significance (in terms of understanding a West at war) are most revealing in the federal domain.

Keep in mind that all federal-land ranches are made up of both public and private parts. A grazing permit—a stockman's license to graze federal property—requires commensurate private property. This condition links, indeed entangles, private and public lands in the West. It explains why grazing permits are economically valuable (but only, by law, to other stockmen): The private lands have the water to make dry federal lands usable and the public portions have the extra grass needed to make ranching operations economically viable.

For starters, government has seen fit to shield ranchers from all creatures, great and small. Federally funded trappers have worked for decades to purge the western range of wolves, bears, cougars, and coyotes that prey on domestic livestock. Not only must taxpayers shoulder the costs (about $30 million a year), but they must also pay a bill that is sometimes far greater than the value of the livestock that is lost. Thanks to government efficiency and the USDA animal damage control program, it's possible for you and me to pay $1,000 or more in places like New Mexico to shoot or poison a single sheep-eating coyote.

Much the same is true for little creatures, like grasshoppers and Mormon crickets, whose populations wax and wane in response to natural cycles and events. Again, the USDA comes to the rescue of western stockmen by making you and me, not the rancher, pay the costs of spraying rangelands with pesticides. Again, the dollar value of the grass saved by spraying is only a fraction of the cost of the pesticide and its application. But, of course, pitting the formidable might of the federal state against a few thousand coyotes and millions of grasshoppers ranks right up there with taming the nation's great rivers: a noble and proper achievement for a government conceived in liberty. Government is stacking the deck, changing the calculus of costs and benefits to the distinct advantage of grazing and graziers in the public-land West.

Government also protects western stockmen from the nonliving elements of nature. The massive networks of dams on western rivers provide ranchers with predictable and cheap water, even in times of drought. But that is only a drop in the pork barrel. A more massive subsidy to both private- and public-land ranchers in the West is the USDA's emergency feed program—a subsidy that pays stockmen nationwide 50 percent of the cost of hay and grain to help keep their herds alive during the most catastrophic droughts.

Not surprisingly, the program has evolved—mostly under the Reagan and Bush administrations—into an entitlement program for dry years and wet. In New Mexico, for example, rainfall has been above average for five of the past six years, yet so has federal drought relief, averaging 15 percent of net ranching income. Nevada ranchers, the most vocal of sagebrush rebels and the most intent on kicking Uncle Sam out of the West, receive on average $18,000 per year for every man and woman in the program.

It's bad enough that emergency feed relief costs taxpayers $100 million to $500 million annually. It's even worse that emergency feed relief makes overgrazing on private and public lands both profitable and possible. Emergency feed payments sustain livestock numbers at 15 percent to 50 percent over the land's long-term capacity to grow grass. What this means is that ranchers run a grass deficit. Each year that they overstock and overgraze, their rangelands produce less grass, and with less grass their need for drought relief mounts. But as long as government payments for emergency feed grow as fast as the grass disappears, ranchers can stay in business, and even make a profit.

Most federal subsidy programs that apply to public-land ranchers are not founded on the pretense of natural catastrophe. For that reason, they are the most pernicious ones, the ones whose intent is to protect ranchers from their own bad judgments and from the glaring defects and perverse incentives of socialized grazing. For example, the federal government returns 50 percent of all grazing fee receipts to the ranching community to pay for purely private benefits such as fences and watering holes. Since the grazing programs of both the Forest Service and the BLM now operate at a deficit close to $200 million a year, these subsidies—amounting to almost $20 million a year—are paid for by taxpayer, not rancher, dollars. That they are needed at all, of course, speaks volumes on the foibles of socialized grazing: Lacking title to the lands they graze, public-land ranchers have no incentive to spend their own money on range management.

The mother of all public-land grazing subsidies is the special appropriations that Congress started handing out to public-land ranchers in the late 1940s as a way to placate western anger. A prime example is the Vale Rangeland Rehabilitation Program that took place from 1963 to 1985. Overgrazed for years and in extremely poor condition, public lands in the BLM's Vale District were scheduled for deep cuts in stocking. To avoid the cuts, ranchers, politicians, and the BLM persuaded Congress to pay for a massive range restoration program that would allow local stockmen to keep their herds and livelihoods intact. After spending $56 million (1992 dollars), or just over $300,000 per public-land rancher, the BLM declared the project a success. Was it?

Economically, the Vale project was a bust. The cost per acre to implement the program was $75—about $10 more than the market value of an ordinary acre of native rangeland. Further, the additional grass created by the program had a price tag four times its market value. Indeed, if the government had simply bought out every public-land grazing permit in the project at fair market value, it could have saved taxpayers about $10 million.

Ecologically, the Vale project fared even worse. By 1986, brush was reinvading, grass productivity was falling, streams were still mostly degraded, and wildlife was no better off than before. By 1994, the project had unraveled. Public-land ranchers in Vale's BLM district received emergency feed checks ranging from $35,000 to $50,000 apiece for the simple reason that there was no grass left. Millions had been spent to simply traverse a circle, to end up at the beginning. The public grazing system that had created the crisis in the first place was still intact and the chronic overgrazing of the past was uncured.

The West at War With Itself

With whom, then, is the West warring? Is the enemy really the federal government? Are sagebrush rebels prepared to risk the status quo by severing federal ties? Are they willing to dismantle the public institutions and subsidies that have made and continue to make cattle king on the western range? Are they willing to bring down the federal barricade that has protected much of the West from free-market forces—from consumer demands pressing for more recreation and wildlife and fewer cows and sheep? A look at the record suggests a disappointing no.

In the late 1940s, stockmen showed no qualms when they traded calls for privatization for calls for congressional appropriations—pure pork that grew over the years into hundreds of millions of dollars. By 1980, not much had changed, except that stockmen were no longer bothering with the charade of privatization. In fact, they fought privatization tooth and nail. They shot down President Reagan's modest attempt to sell the most marginal federal lands, a program called asset management. Nevada public-land ranchers, with the blessing of Interior Secretary Watt, joined hands with members of the Nevada chapter of the Sierra Club to kill the program. What stockmen wanted, and what they got, was not less government but the right dose of government to secure their public-land standing and to sustain a long tradition of federal largess and protection.

Today, Son-of-Sage moves along a similar path. True, calls for privatization can be heard, but most of the sagebrush agenda is aimed at making sure federal lands stay safe for ranchers and ranching. Privatization is simply too risky—and likely too costly given the political options. It's cheaper and more effective to have lobbyists fire away at federal proposals to increase grazing fees and regulations. It's safer for public-land ranchers to abstain from discouraging words that cast aspersions on the institutions and subsidies that define and sustain their world, and that return to some of them 10 times what they pay in grazing fees. Rather than gamble on freedom from government, sagebrush rebels instead grope for governmental solutions.

States' rights is the prime example. The chorus of the Sagebrush Rebellion is to give the federal lands to the western states, as if state socialism would be less malicious and more efficacious than the federal brand. To their credit, some sagebrush rebels argue that once in state hands public lands could be more readily privatized. It's an interesting idea, but it begs the question: If privatization is the goal, are we to assume that members of Congress who oppose it would be naive enough to vote for a program of state ownership that is nothing but a veiled attempt at full divestiture? Further, assuming that the western states would even accept the federal lands—something they have so far been less than enthusiastic about—would the sagebrush rebels really push privatization or would they simply settle for a new landlord closer to home and more susceptible to local control? Given the past, there is good reason to think that stockmen would indeed settle short of privatization, especially if they could get the kinds of political concessions from state government that they have not gotten from Uncle Sam.

Other pieces of the sagebrush agenda suggest that government in principle is not the West's main enemy. For example, an essential part of the rancher rebellion is the so-called county movement, a grassroots attempt to transfer control, if not ownership, of federal lands to rural western counties. Heavily influenced by Wayne Hage's book, Storm Over Rangelands, proponents argue that public-land ranchers have a lawful claim to some of the property rights that make up the federal West. They believe that a century of federally sponsored grazing has given stockmen a common law use-right to public lands. They stake their claim in the supposed inviolability of the "custom and culture" of livestock grazing, and they look to county government as the political muscle to enforce and safeguard it. Stripped of its exotic theories and fine legal points, what this idea amounts to is the sanction and protection of a traditional way of life by local government.

Public-land ranchers probably do have a claim to some of the rights on federal lands. After all, most of them bought their federal grazing permits and paid a price set by the market. However, the county movement is not really about a small stick in the bundle of federal property rights; it is about preserving a way of life that is now threatened by change. For example, ranchers in Bonner County, Idaho, persuaded a majority of county commissioners to pass a land-use plan that declared ranching and logging the county's custom and culture. A state district court nullified the law because the majority of citizens in Bonner County, who are neither ranchers nor loggers, were purposefully excluded from the planning process.

Worse yet, in Catron County, New Mexico, county leaders have threatened to outlaw big-game ranching because, they claim, it would undermine the custom and culture of cattle ranching. And county commissioners have passed an ordinance requiring environmentalists—who are rightly perceived as enemies of the county's custom and culture—to register at the county courthouse. At the same time, the county has petitioned Bruce Babbitt to transfer federal funds intended for the Forest Service directly to county coffers so that county commissioners can manage and control the public domain.

Once again, government is fine so long as the reins of control are in the right hands. That explains why stockmen, from the Canadian to the Mexican border, are using county government to limit property rights to raising cows and free-speech rights to the advocacy of a ranching way of life. It also explains my profound disappointment after spending a year working with Catron County residents and speaking to communities throughout the West in an effort to put the county movement on a free-market track.

The West is indeed at war, but not with the federal government. It is tragically at war with itself, for beneath the glamour of the Marlboro Cowboy is an unsettling demographic fact: The West, paradoxically, is the most urbanized region of the nation. It has a sparse and tiny rural population; Nevada, for example, has 90 percent of its population in its three major urban centers. The bulk of the people of the West, whether living in cities or rural areas, are urban men and women. Their custom and culture is defined by the automobile, not the horse; by the finely sauteed filet, not the steer; by the shopping mall, not the local rodeo; and by the virtual reality of the computer, not the communal reality of a back-slapping, rural western bar. In contrast, the custom and culture of ranching is hanging on by a slender thread, and the Sagebrush Rebellion may well be its last hurrah.

A hundred, or even 50 years ago, federal institutions and subsidies that kept cattle king were acceptable to westerners. City and country folk alike shared common values and a common regard for government's role in the region's economy. That commonality is gone today. What the urban West wants from the region's public lands is not what the rural West is willing to give. The economies of the urban West are sufficiently diversified that the desire for federal programs and subsidies will likely diminish with time (and with the political reality of a Republican Congress).

Yet the rural, ranching West remains immune from change; it remains by law and tradition tethered to the federal trough and stubbornly resistant to the market signals that emanate from the urban West crying out for something other than the status quo. But the more the sagebrush rebels defend the old system of privilege and subsidies, the more glaring its inequities become, and the more apparent it is to all but them that it is corrupt and beyond salvage.

Is it any wonder that western environmentalists, sportsmen, and outdoor enthusiasts have fought ranchers so hard for so long? They, like the rest of the urban West, can't buy grazing permits and then use them for their own purposes. They can't use the marketplace to reach outcomes that are noncoercive. What they can and must do, however, is pay the taxes that sustain grazing at its current levels; they must finance the subsidies that generate non-market outcomes, that raise their blood pressures, and that severely restrict their options for action.

Urban and nonranching westerners have no choice but to play politics with half the West's land if they are to influence its future use. They are constrained by law and tradition to demand more and more government so that their voices can carry more and more weight in a public never-never land bereft of markets, private property rights, and voluntary channels. That's how multiple-use management works. It's the law of the West, the legacy handed down to all Americans by a century-and-a-half of federal social and environmental engineering.

This is why the West is at war with itself. One half of it, the landed part, is entrenched in federal protection and the other half, the urban part, is powerful enough to turn the federal might against the vastly outnumbered cowboy. But all the federal might in the world cannot and will not unravel the Gordian knot of how best to allocate the West's resources—the rivers, rangelands, and mountain peaks that are the sources of its livelihood, happiness, and identity. Well-intended government has failed to do so in the past, it is failing now, and it will fail in the future.

That explains, in part, the ubiquitous rise of intolerant environmental groups like Earth First! who have come to the public-lands scene with radical agendas to shoot cows and, if necessary, to shoot ranchers. They are simply the mirror reflections of the rabble-rousing rancher with a .44-caliber Magnum tucked in the back of his jeans. With markets nonexistent, land uses monopolized, property rights in limbo, subsidies suspect and challenged, and government an abysmal failure, what alternative is there to war in the West? Is it not amazing that to date only words have shattered the fragile calm of deserts, prairies, and canyons?

Clearly, until ranchers and environmentalists—the rural and the urban West—see the origin of internecine warfare for what it is, a storm will continue to gather over the Rockies. Nothing will change, there can be no peace, unless and until ranchers say no to government in principle, until environmentalists say no to government in practice, and until both warring parties willingly embrace markets and true self-governance for a freer, Next West.

Karl Hess Jr. is a western writer affiliated with the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C., and the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment in Bozeman, Montana. He lives in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and he is now completing his third book, Deep Markets & the Rebirth of Environmentalism.