So, are we close now to settling the feud between Utah and Washington over all that land the feds own? Does the new “grand bargain” make it less likely the president will wake up one morning and say, “I think I’ll declare a new national monument out there in that state where no one likes me”?
The only thing different about the likely outcome of the “bargain” announced last week by Utah Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz and the armed
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holdout by a bunch of fanatics in rural Oregon is that the “bargain” won’t result in any jail time.
But it won’t get us Westerners who, to paraphrase a former Alaska politician, are proud clingers of our land, off square one, either.
If you’re keeping score, we have in recent days seen the gamut of strategies for solving Western land use issues, from brute force to legal process to an attempt at epic compromise. None has played out completely, but the good money is on Washington still owning 66 percent of Utah and a good share of other Western states when your grandchildren are running things.
Let’s start with brute force, or the rural Oregon maneuver. Three weeks have passed since Ammon Bundy and his gang took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. It’s safe to say some obscure cable shows and perhaps even high school checkers tournaments have attracted more attention. Their demands that Washington turn over land mix nightly with the howls of coyotes.
A congressman from Oregon, Peter DeFazio, wondered allowed on the House floor recently, what has happened to the Justice Department. “Hello?” he asked. “I don’t think there’s anybody there.”
As of yet, no one has answered his call, which does not mean they are drawing up papers to relinquish title to the land.
Likely outcome: jail time, if anyone notices the takeover.
Now let’s look at the legal route. Some lawyers told Utah lawmakers that, for about $14 million, they could maybe get the Supreme Court to take a case seeking to turn all federal land over to the state. House Speaker Greg Hughes, who apparently has yet to be informed there are Democrats in the House, said he believes this lawsuit could be pursued without “rancor and dissension.” The few Democrats in the House rancorously refused to applaud.
Likely outcome: either total defeat or a victory that leaves Utah scrambling to manage land with energy prices at historic lows.
Finally, let’s examine what looked like the rational, winning hand — the “grand bargain” Bishop and Chaffetz put together in eight eastern counties. This was to include the interests of environmentalists, recreationists, native tribes, local politicians and energy companies, all coming together on a land-use plan for Congress to approve and the president to sign.
No sooner did they unveil a draft of this last week than the fanfare quickly changed to a chorus of sliding trombones.
A true compromise has all parties grudgingly in support, knowing they had to give about as much as everyone else. But this one has some stakeholders unsheathing their swords.
Things looked a lot more hopeful 15 months ago when all sides hailed a stunning compromise in Daggett County, where officials agreed to give up about 100,000 acres for wilderness and conservation in return for about 7,000 acres for resort development.
But now, the “grand bargain” doesn’t include the Daggett compromise as it was announced.
In addition, Native American tribes don’t like what the “bargain” would do to the sacred lands of the Bears Ears region. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, which gushed over the Daggett compromise in 2014, calls the “bargain” a “fossil fuel development bill.”
Bishop and Chaffetz, meanwhile, are insisting the bill should include a clause prohibiting the president from using his authority to create a new monument in the region, which even a president Trump likely would veto.
Likely outcome: failure, as well.
Unfortunately, this won’t make it any easier to try such a thing again. It also won’t keep the president from declaring a monument.
It will, however, make it likely that fights over land use in the West continue for a long time.