American Lands Council – A Constitutional Means To Financial Stability For Western States

The American Lands Council recently came to Oregon to discuss the dichotomy between Eastern and Western states in the percentage of land owned by the federal government. Western states have been left behind in the original federal promise to quickly dispose of federal lands after statehood is granted, and it has cost those states the ability to properly administer their own economy.

On November 22, Ken Ivory, President of the American Lands Council, came to Oregon to talk about the power of unlocking pubic lands in Western states. He explained how the federal government had shirked its promise to the Western states; how local control was the vision of the Framers of the Constitution; and how local land control would be an immediate solution to budget woes faced by schools, state legislatures and municipalities out West.

Ivory, who also represents the 47th District in Utah’s legislature, laid out a credible case that was deeply based in fact. Some of the basics:

  • There is a Federal Fault Line between states that had their lands granted to them after statehood and those that didn’t;
  • The Eastern states average less than 5% federal ownership, while Western states average more than 65% federal ownership;
  • Western states perpetually lag behind the nation in educational funding, economic development and tax revenue.

In his presentation, Ivory repeatedly stresses that every State, upon admission to the Union, relied upon the federal government’s trust duty from 1780 forward to dispose of the public lands. Indeed, the solemn compact of statehood included the ability to access the lands and the resources they provide.

Imagine, for instance, if North Dakota were principally under federal control. No oil boom. No economic development. No ability to create state budget surpluses based on an unemployment rate that is half the national average.

Well, that’s exactly what’s happened in states like Oregon, Utah and Nevada. The inability to access the resources provided by the land within their borders has led to a tax base that is a fraction of what’s required to fund basic services in these states. The way that Ivory presents the solution is, “The only solution that’s big enough”.

What Ivory and the American Lands Council propose is, as he likes to say, simple but not easy. Extinguishment of federal title over public lands in the Western states was clearly intended by the Framers of the Constitution, is the proper thing to do to rebalance the power of the states vs. federal power, and is the logical thing to do to remove dictatorial power of Washington DC over lands that rightfully belong to the people. It is long past time that we explore such solutions.