Climate

One Year Later, Cliven Bundy and His Right-Wing Militia Are Still Trying to Seize Public Lands

CREDIT: AP Photo/Cathleen Allison

Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, center, listens to testimony on a bill challenging federal control of Nevada public lands in a hearing at the Legislative Building in Carson City, Nev., Tuesday, March 31, 2015.

A year after his dangerous armed standoff with federal officials, outlaw rancher Cliven Bundy has become the face of a radical bill in Nevada — and similar efforts in 10 other Western states — to seize and sell off America’s public lands.

Introduced last month by Assemblywoman Michele Fiore (R), who is perhaps best known for controversial comments on guns, race, and healthcare, Nevada’s “Bundy Bill” would authorize the state to seize U.S. public lands within its borders and prohibit the federal government from using any land without the state’s permission. It would also give county commissioners authority to sell off public lands for development.

After being drastically altered in order to gain approval from a Nevada Assembly Committee on Thursday, the “Bundy Bill” now heads to the state’s full Assembly.

Last week, Bundy and 100 of his followers rallied in Nevada’s capital in support of the bill.

“We’re here to take our state back and act like we’re sovereign citizens,” Bundy said at the rally.

However, as reported by the Reno Gazette-Journal, Nevada’s Legislative Counsel Bureau concluded that the proposal would be “constitutionally invalid,” and that “ample bases exist upon which court could invalidate any state laws which are in direct conflict with existing federal laws concerning those public lands or which are hostile to or interfere with the exercise of federal authority over public lands.”

Right-wing lawmakers in 10 other Western states — Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming — have also proposed or introduced similar unconstitutional proposals that would support the seizure and sale of America’s public lands to the highest bidder.

In addition to the glaring legal issues they raise, these proposals would place severe burden on state taxpayers who would have to cover high costs of land management, and are consequently extremely unpopular with Western voters. Bipartisan public opinion research has shown that a majority of Westerners oppose these proposals and believe that giving control of public lands to state governments would result in reduced access for recreation and a high probability the lands would be sold off for drilling, mining and logging.

Nonetheless, Bundy’s philosophy is gaining traction with national GOP leaders and organizations, encouraged by the oil and gas industry and the Koch-backed American Legislative Exchange Council.

Most recently, Congressman Mark Amodei (R-NV) introduced a “large-scale” public lands bill, which would allow the state of Nevada to seize and sell off public lands. Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT), chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, also requested $50 million in the federal budget in order to facilitate immediate transfer of public lands to state control.

In the Senate, Sen. Lisa Murkowksi, Chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, introduced an amendment in March to support state efforts to seize public lands. Sen. Ted Cruz is preparing to include opposition to America’s public lands in his presidential campaign as a “play for the West.”

To mark this week’s anniversary of their now infamous standoff, Bundy and his militia followers are planning a “Bundy Ranch Freedom Reunion,” or “Liberty Celebration,” to “gather in celebration of our liberties, agency and stand with God, for our U.S. Constitution, State sovereignty, Property rights and to enjoy access to our lands,” according to a Facebook invitation.

Claire Moser is the Research and Advocacy Associate with the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress. You can follow her on Twitter at @Claire_Moser.