Efforts to sell or give away federal public lands is a freedom issue

Privatization or transfer to states would be a massive loss of personal freedom-

In politics, it is common to hear that adoption of this or that policy would be a great loss (or gain) for freedom or liberty.

Very often such policies do involve economic liberty for some group or business. Other times the policy might have to do with personal rights or freedoms such speech, association, gender, exercise of religion (or freedom from it).

A little recognized freedom, not talked about much in American politics, is the freedom to move about, to go places without restraint, to go wherever you want, to see and discover — all with little or no permission. This might well be the critical issue against the taking of the public lands for use by the states or for privatization. Those who are pushing to eliminate the national forests, BLM lands, national wildlife refuges and perhaps the national parks, do not enjoy this argument. They mention it only in a negative way, such as “we will include a provision that people can still get to these lands” (after sale or transfer); or often “we are only dealing here with those unneeded ‘excess’ federal lands.”

Those who would move the public lands into state control or private property do not talk about specific places such as the mountain country just north of Boise, the California desert, or the towering Wasatch just behind Salt Lake City. The “wide open spaces” is not part of their vocabulary.  Those campaigning against continued federal management assume that keeping some national parks will, or should, take care of minor matters like scenery.

What they don’t understand is that almost every bit of the federal estate is used and loved by some persons or groups. Whenever a plan is raised to transfer some specific piece of public land, even if keeping it public, a controversy erupts from those who like the status quo. Land transfer advocates probably understand that talking in generalities, not mentioning any specific lands, grants them some relief from those Americans who are satisfied with the land as it is.

One might think they would use examples from state managed land to show how freedom to roam is safe in state or local hands, but there seem to be very few examples.  When they say “Wyoming could manage these lands better;” or “here are some wonderful state lands in Nevada;” there are few to no recognized examples. Nevada sold off their state lands long ago. Arizona can hardly keep their state parks open. The same is true in Idaho. Even California has closed many state parks. In Oregon, the past governor and other politicians, want to sell some of the Oregon state forests to timber companies.

A final problem about specific lands and their access is that most people care about more than their state. For example, let’s assume that Idaho would do a terrific job managing the federal lands in Idaho, many Idahoans would still be just as concerned about the kind of job Wyoming or Montana did with former federal public lands and their personal ability to freely go to and use these lands.

Groups like the Backcountry hunters, anglers, and outdoor recreationists great strength is both understanding and telling the public that this is a matter of freedom, and one if lost, will never be regained in this crowded world. The more those who want to keep their freedom to roam talk about specific places, real opportunities, the better they will do in this battle.



  1. Larry K Avatar
    Larry K

    This whole land transfer ideology is a sad history repeat of the 1800’s in America. Just reread the history of the Native Americans, the heartfelt sadness in the Hunkpapa Sioux during the loss of their homeland. I for one can “Feel their pain” of more than 100 years ago. To me part of FREEDOM in America would be erased never to be a part of generations to come. What possible concept must be in the minds of the Ken Ivory types that would commit such a crime against our future generations.

  2. monty Avatar

    Ralph,and Larry right on, I can add nothing but my white hot anger!!!.

  3. monty Avatar

    Is the goal of the human race to maximize the production of human tonnage? Or maybe there is no goal but just happenstance. Every country in the world would be better off if 25 percent of the land mass was set aside for other life forms. This would demonstrate that humans are civilized!!

  4. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    Sage grouse a threat to National Security?

    “Meanwhile, the U.S. House Armed Services Committee is considering a proposal to delay a listing decision for greater sage grouse for at least 10 years and transfer management of millions of acres of federal lands to western states.”


    1. Ed Loosli Avatar
      Ed Loosli

      Yes Ida, it looks like wildlife needing protection from human activities will lead to the eventual downfall of the U.S. Army, to be followed quickly by the defeat of the USA itself. This downfall of the U.S., of course, will also be brought about by the crippling of the U.S. Navy because of Endangered Species protections for whales.

  5. Nick Morrell Avatar
    Nick Morrell

    public lands belong with the public and should be not sold off. the agencies we have to manage and protect our public lands, Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and Park service, all are less than 100 years old in their current formations the EPA which oversees our air land and waters, is less than 50 years old. the first wildlife refuge wasnt created until 1903, the first national monument until 1906.what should done is this, if the states cant keep the state parks open, sell them to the fed for management or incorporation into existing federal areas.California has a unique setup whee the state protected areas for redwoods are managed alongside the federal areas in a single unit. every state should be subject to the Antiquities Act,no exceptions, if the president acts in Alaska to conserve, say, Bristol Bay, then the representatives of that state can ask Congress to defund or abolish the monument. Unlikely to happen, since that would have to require 2-3rds in both houses -292 in the House -67 in the Senate- to override a veto.and no president in this day and age will willingly allow a monument hes created to be wiped off the map.

  6. kmatjhwy Avatar

    Do Agree Ralph! Now if this would happen with the transfer of the public lands to the states and then to private hands of the corporate rich … it would be such a huge huge loss for all Americans.

    Yes what a Great Freedom and such a Great Privilege it is to move about on the public lands!!! Here we can go along with what life and the Wild Earth offers outside the box of a global consumer oriented society governed by the super rich elites. All for need to stand ever watchful against those who would try to exploit the lands by whatever means for just their own monetary gains.

    Again A Great Article and Wishing You the Best!

  7. Kathleen Avatar

    “Ten Ways Those Who Want to Give Your Land Away are Misleading You”


  8. Yvette Avatar

    Some states are still struggling to balance budgets. Oklahoma has very little federal land, and of the 2% it has I’m not sure if tribal land is counted in that two percent, but I know the Murray Building from the bombing counts as part of it. Not exactly wilderness being in the middle of downtown OKC. We do have state public land and one of the first things Oklahoma dumped when trying to balance budgets were state parks. In 2011, OK wanted to close 7 state parks. The management of two of those parks was transferred to two different tribes that were willing to take over the management. What didn’t happen and should happen is the transfer of ownership of the land. If the state wants to turn over management of the parks to tribes then ownership of the land should also go to the tribe managing the park. If the tribe is willing to take the responsibility of management then they need to own the land. Last summer OK closed yet another state park and this was one I use to frequent when my daughter was young.

    If states succeed in taking over federal public land will they simply dump, sell or give away that land when they need to balance budgets? If so, tribes need to step up and take the park, manage the park/land, and own the land. Transferring the land to tribes beats the hell out of transferring to a foreign mining company….like the Oak Flats.


  9. Ed Loosli Avatar
    Ed Loosli

    Thanks for this up-lifting Oklahoma story. Here is a similar story from California, where Northern Coastal Native Americans have re-claimed some of their former lands – The Sinkyone Wilderness.


    1. Yvette Avatar

      How cool! Thanks for sharing that, Ed. I like seeing those collaborative efforts that work to preserve and benefit everyone. I told my supervisor today that if the state needs to dump more state parks we should consider the feasibility of taking over the management and even purchasing the land. The one I wish we could get is one that the state considered closing this year but it isn’t in our jurisdiction. I still think we could get it since if since the land wouldn’t be trust land. Alas, the state is keeping it open for now and I’m glad since it’s my favorite.

  10. Ed Loosli Avatar
    Ed Loosli

    GOP House Leaders Create ‘Action Group’ To Seize and Sell America’s Public Lands by Claire Moser


    “In launching what they are calling the “Federal Land Action Group,” Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) and Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) plan to develop a legislative framework for giving states control of America’s public lands. In addition to Bishop and Stewart, the group’s ‘Congressional team’ includes Representatives Mark Amodei (R-NV), Diane Black (R-TN), Jeff Duncan (R-SC), Cresent Hardy (R-NV), and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY). Bishop, who has long advocated for state seizure of America’s national forests and other public lands, has recently found more creative ways of pushing his Cliven Bundy-inspired agenda forward.”

  11. Ida Lupine Avatar
    Ida Lupine

    Interesting reading re US oil drilling post BP (first of a three-part series):

    “Five years later, however, little has changed. Oil and gas production in the Gulf is expected to reach pre-spill levels this year. Congress has not passed any far-reaching new safety legislation for offshore oil and gas drilling, and the U.S. Interior Department has implemented only piecemeal reforms, on well casings in 2010 and cementing of wells in 2012. Earlier this month, it announced new safety requirements for blowout preventers for oil and gas wells — a reform the industry had already adopted voluntarily.

    Indeed, instead of moving away from risky offshore oil, the U.S. is now poised to expand exploration and drilling in vast new areas of the ocean. Earlier this year, energy interests scored a major victory when the Obama administration announced it would include waters off the coasts of Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia in a draft five-year plan for offshore oil and gas leasing beginning in 2017 — the first time a federal lease has been proposed for the Atlantic since the early 1980s.”

    Drive to Drill: Energy Lobbyists Behind Governors’ Crusade for Atlantic Oil (As If We Didn’t Know)


    1. bret Avatar

      Some bold politicians are stepping up to look out for the public good in the face of pressure that could see more public lands run by private interests.


      1. Ed Loosli Avatar
        Ed Loosli

        Bret: Thanks for this encouraging news. For those who keep insisting that there is little difference between the Democratic and Republican parties, these attempts by mostly Republicans to wrest control of our public lands from the federal governments to state control, shows there is a HUGE difference.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan