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Report Debunks States' Claims to Federal Lands

Finger Lakes National Forest is part of the 104,000 acres of federally managed land in New York.  (U.S. Forest Service)
Finger Lakes National Forest is part of the 104,000 acres of federally managed land in New York. (U.S. Forest Service)
October 6, 2016

NEW YORK – Claims by anti-government groups that federal lands must be turned over to the states would not stand up in court, according to a new report.

The armed takeover of a national wildlife refuge in Oregon earlier this year was a dramatic manifestation of a movement that has followers in many states.

But the report from the Conference of Western Attorneys General cites U.S. Supreme Court rulings confirming that the federal government has practically unlimited authority to hold public lands.

John Leshy, an emeritus professor of law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law, says arguments for the seizure of U.S. public lands have virtually no legal merit.

"AG offices around the West collectively worked together and looked at these claims, and basically decided there really wasn't anything to them – that it really did have very little credibility in court," he states.

The Public Lands Subcommittee of the Conference of Western Attorneys General representing states with large tracts of federally managed land prepared the report.

But national parks, recreation areas and wildlife refuges exist in every state. In New York, the federal government manages more than 100,000 acres of public lands.

And Theo Spencer, senior policy advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council, says everyone benefits.

"It's been said that national parks are America's greatest idea, and I think that's certainly the case,” he states. “They add tremendously to the overall economy of the state by drawing thousands of visitors every year."

Bills attacking federal management of public lands have been introduced in Congress and in several state legislatures, including in Missouri, Ohio and New Hampshire.

According to Leshy, it's an issue that has been around for many years.

"There's always been kind of a right-wing sort of libertarian movement that says the federal government shouldn't own any lands, and states should get these lands back,” he points out. “That's the sort of general issue, and it surfaces every so often."

According to The Wilderness Society, public land grabs would especially hurt rural economies that depend on them for millions of jobs and billions of dollars in revenue.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY