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Hey, dickheads: the land was never yours to begin with. Most western states, as historian Wallace Stegner observed, "were created out of federal territory by formal acts of Congress."

The fact is, the states never owned those lands, and gave up all claim to them when they became states. They were always federal lands, acquired by purchase, negotiation, or conquest before any western states existed. ~ Wallace Stegner, "Living Dry"
And when Arizona and most other western states joined the union, they did so under the provision that the federal government would take care of a lot of their forests, deserts, and canyons. They also needed federal funds to build dams and subsidize ranching and agriculture. The tea party slogan, "Get federal government out of our hair," doesn't ring more hollow than it does here. The Central Arizona Project, for example, which brings Colorado River water more than 300 miles across deserts, plateaus, and mountains to Phoenix and Tucson was, at the time, the largest federal project to benefit a single state.

The feds actually tried to dispose of a lot of their land, but the new western states didn't want it because, frankly, they didn't want to pay for its management and they didn't see how vast tracts of plains and desert could be exploited. The result today is that about 85 percent of Nevada is federally managed, in Idaho and Utah it's about two-thirds, and in California, Arizona, and Wyoming nearly half of the land is under federal control.

But this history hasn't stopped ALEC from fueling yet another false rightwing meme: the federal government is "mismanaging" our land; their "radical environmental policies," frustrating regulations, and impenetrable bureaucracy make development and "wise use" impossible. Critics claim that BLM and Forest Service parcels, in particular, should be "returned" to the states:

Supporters say federal agencies have mismanaged the land and blocked access to natural resources, depriving the states of jobs and revenue from businesses ready to develop those resources. With the state in control, the backers say, loggers could return to forests where endangered species halted work decades ago and miners could regain access to ore outside the Grand Canyon. Arizona Republic
If this sounds like an old story, it's been around since many of the western states joined the nation -- the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion. There was another in the 1970s and '80s, but it died down when President Reagan appointed James Watt to head Interior, who made a great deal of federal land available to large lumber, mining, and ranching corporations -- doing the very job the Sagebrush Rebels wanted.

Now they're at it again, this time backed by ALEC. The Arizona bill (SB 1332) that would return more than 25 million acres to the state is sponsored by Republican Al Melvin.



Got that? The bill says the federal government should turn over all of its land to Arizona by 2014, and if the feds don't do so by 2015 Arizona will start taxing them. Gee, wonder where Senator Melvin got the idea:
In Arizona, Melvin's measure calls for the transfer of lands to the state from the federal government. He brought the bill to Arizona after hearing about it late last year from the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization that often provides state lawmakers with model legislation, written by its own staff.
To no one's surprise, Senator Melvin serves on ALEC's Commerce, Insurance, and Economic Development Task Force.

Now riddle me this: in a state that's cut education, healthcare, and social services to the marrow, where in the hell are they going to get the money to manage an extra 25 million acres?

... a wholesale takeover of public lands would bankrupt the state as it attempted to maintain thousands of miles of forest roads, campgrounds and infrastructure built by federal land agencies over the years. Arizona Republic
But wait, the Republicans have a plan, the same plan they and ALEC always push: privatization. They'll lease, sell, or otherwise turn over the federal territories and their resources to the private sector, because they have such a quality record of land management. In case anyone still wonders, it's fairly obvious what they're up to and why ALEC is behind this legislation. According to Arizona Senator Sylvia Allen, who serves on ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force:
She also believes the bill would allow the state to lift a new ban on uranium mining on 1 million acres of public land outside the Grand Canyon. Arizona Republic
The reason the Grand Canyon is the #1 tourist attraction in Arizona, adding billions of dollars each year to the state's economy, is because in 1908 Theodore Roosevelt had the vision to set it aside as a National Monument, which he could do with the stroke of his pen. At the turn of the 20th century, the Canyon was being exploited by a growing tourism sector that had set up tacky gift shops along the rim, private entrepreneurs controlled access and charged visitors to use the trails, and extraction industries like mining were digging the crap out of the big gorge. When TR set the Canyon aside as "an object of unusual scientific interest," the politicians, chambers of commerce, and other business interests in the Arizona Territory went berserk, because he had removed the Grand Canyon from their greedy clutches. Had ALEC existed in 1908, there's no telling what the Canyon and many of our National Parks, Monuments, and Forests would look like today.

Tourism is either the first or second largest industry in the state, depending on which economist you talk to, and there's little doubt most visitors travel here to experience Arizona's unique cultural and natural landscapes. Stupid-ass immigration policies like SB 1070, also supported by ALEC's private prison interests, have turned a state that used to celebrate its Hispanic and Native heritage into a place that's hostile to them. Likewise, these lame land grabs are undermining the very things most people find special about the place:

"This Legislature would take what's special about Arizona and destroy it," said Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club's Grand Canyon chapter. "I think most people believe our national forests are there to protect the watershed, provide habitat for wildlife, places for recreation. People come here because it's beautiful, and it's beautiful because we have public lands, not because of the cookie-cutter subdivisions on the outskirts of Phoenix." Arizona Republic
But it's the "cookie-cutter subdivisions," the mines, clear-cutting, and other extractive industries that fuel ALEC's war chest. Check their corporate membership and you'll see it's a Who's Who of energy, chemical, and development interests. The current co-chair of ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agricultural Task Force is Martin Schultz, a long-time Arizona mover and shaker in the energy industry.

Through their political mouthpieces like Senator Al Melvin, ALEC pushes this story of the federal government's "radical environmental policies" curtailing jobs and economic development. The truth is, in places like Superior, Arizona, where they intend to build one of the world's largest copper mines on sacred Indian burial land, ALEC and their political shills are shitting all over the places people love, places that our fragile ecology needs to remain healthy, and places that serve Arizona's important hospitality sector -- in order to cuddle the balls of the extractors, who chew up the land, send the profits elsewhere, and leave us ruined landscapes.

[For another take on this, with more history on the Sagebrush Rebellion, see notdarkyet's diary AZ: Stupid on Steroids.]

Originally posted to Maggie's Farm on Mon Mar 26, 2012 at 01:44 PM PDT.

Also republished by Baja Arizona Kossacks, American Legislative Transparency Project, and History for Kossacks.

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