Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) doesn’t like being categorized as “anti-public land,” or more precisely lumped in with the Bundy Boys. However, his sponsorship of legislation and other activities have him on the Anti-Public Land list:
“Amodei landed on the list for sponsoring legislation that would give the state control of 7.2 million of the approximately 58 million acres of federally controlled land in Nevada, opposition to the creation of the Basin and Range National Monument, membership in Federal Lands Action Group and a statement about the Malheur occupation.
The statement, attributed to Amodei and two other members of the action group, said the lawmakers didn’t condone the Oregon action but added, “we do understand their frustration with increasingly heavy handed federal agencies that continue to violate the rights of hardworking American farmers and ranchers.” [RGJ]
“Rep. Amodei is a FLAG member and introduced H.R. 1484, the Honor the Nevada Enabling Act of 1864—which would seize Nevada public land for state control. In 2015, Rep. Amodei also introduced H.R. 488, which would cripple the Antiquities Act by blocking the extension or creation of national monuments in Nevada, unless authorized by Congress. Rep. Amodei has also cosponsored four other bills aimed at curtailing the Antiquities Act and seizing public lands. In response to the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Rep. Amodei signed on to a joint statement that condemned federal officials for law-breaking, rather than condemning the actions of the armed militants.” [CAP]
So, what is FLAG, and how does it relate to the Anti-Public Lands crowd? The organization is the brain child of two Utah Representatives, Stewart and Bishop, who announced its creation on April 28, 2015. And, the purpose?
Today, Representatives Chris Stewart (R-Utah) and Rob Bishop (R-Utah) launched the Federal Land Action Group, a congressional team that will develop a legislative framework for transferring public lands to local ownership and control. […] This group will explore legal and historical background in order to determine the best congressional action needed to return these lands back to the rightful owners. We have assembled a strong team of lawmakers, and I look forward to formulating a plan that reminds the federal government it should leave the job of land management to those who know best.” [Stewart]
Who were among the first members of the FLAG group? “Other members of the Group include Representatives Mark Amodei (R-Nev.), Diane Black (R-Tenn.), Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), Cresent Hardy (R-Nev.), and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY).” [Stewart]
We should assume the group means what it says. It wants to transfer public land to local ownership and control. Towards this end the FLAG group held its first “forum” in June 2015, and among the speakers was a representative of the “Independent Institute.” Board members of this organization include a private equity manager, a person from Deloitte & Touche USA, a member of the Howley Management Group, the Botto Law Group, a managing director of Palliser Bay Investment Management, Reditus Revenue Solutions, Audubon Cellars and Winery, Berkeley Research Group LLC, and the former chair of Garvey International. [II.org] This isn’t a list that inspires one to ask if they are primarily interested in public land for the sake of conservation.
Prof. Elwood L. Miller (UNR) was on the initial panel, adding a touch of accounting expertise to the argument that the federal government is too bureaucratic and caught up in procedural questions to be a good steward of public lands. Attorney Glade Hall added the usual federal control isn’t constitutional argument. “It is a patent absurdity to assert that such full powers of governance cover 87 percent of the land surface of a state of the Union and at the same time assert that such state has been admitted to the Union on an equal footing with the original states in every respect whatever,” Hall said.” [STGU] A sentiment echoed by the head of the Natural Resources Group, whose book on the “theft” of the environmental issue is available from the Heritage Foundation.
In short, there was nothing to remind anyone of a fact-finding operation in this inaugural panel sponsored by FLAG. It was of, by, and for individuals who want to ultimately privatize federal lands.
It’s also interesting that the panel members offered these opinions based on personal experience, or “talking to people,” but nothing in the presentations was offered to demonstrably prove that the federal government has no authority (beyond the usual crackpot interpretations spouted by the Bundy-ites and allies) or is actually and provably incompetent to manage public lands. The guiding assumption – however poorly demonstrated – was that the local agencies could do a better job. Period.
If anyone is still unsure of the ideology driving FLAG, please note that the Heritage Foundation and the Mercatus group aren’t the only players supporting the efforts. There’s also the John Birch Society (They’re still around) touting the confab on Facebook. Additionally, there’s the ever-present American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) imprimatur on the project.
One segment of ALEC testimony from a February 2016 FLAG meeting can serve as an illustration of their argument:
“Bureaucratic inflexibility and regulatory redundancy make it almost impossible for the federal government to handle the lands in its charge for optimal environmental health. Any change in strategy on how to manage the lands, such as harvesting trees on forest lands to reduce wildfire fuel loads and prevent pest infestation, can take years to adopt and implement. By the time the federal government is able to act, it is often too late.”
Examples? The argument is made that three factors are responsible for the severity of wildland fires – poor logging practices, overgrazing, and over aggressive fire control. At this juncture, we could well ask how, without regulatory control, can better logging practices be promoted throughout the region? Or, if the Bundy Bunch isn’t convinced by the Federal authorities to pay their grazing fees and not trespass on BLM lands, then how is a state with less in the way of resources supposed to take on the task?
However, the most intriguing element of the ALEC position is this: “Further, they have operated with budget shortfalls for over a decade calling into question whether they even have adequate funds to get the job done.” At this juncture it’s appropriate to ask – and who is touting cutting the federal and state budgets? Who, if not ALEC? Thus, the federal government can’t do a better job because the funding has been cut, and because the funding has been cut it can’t do the job? Circular Reasoning at its finest, looped in with the obvious cuts and shaving from state budgets. The ultimate argument would be that neither the federal government nor the state governments can “do the job” and therefore the lands should be transferred to private hands. Nothing would please the Koch Brothers more?
The second way one gets attached to the Bundy-ites is to get mealy and smushy about their activities. As in, “we do understand their frustration with increasingly heavy handed federal agencies that continue to violate the rights of hardworking American farmers and ranchers.” [RGJ] It’s past time to get specific. Exactly what constitutes “heavy handed federal agencies?” Are they agencies which are tasked to collect grazing fees? How long is an agency expected to wait for a person to decide to pay those fees?
Exactly what constitutes a “violation of rights of hardworking people?” Exactly what rights have been violated? How is it a violation of my rights to have to pay the same grazing fees, or have to move cattle from overgrazed areas, just like every other rancher in a given area under Federal management? Freedom, rights, and independence are easy words to toss around, but without actual evidence of real violations of RIGHTS then the argument is hollow.
“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.” [TP]
Looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, then there’s no reason to list it as anything other than a duck.