The Sagebrush Rebellions goes back to 1897, when President Grover Cleveland, fearful that the great forests of the west were being decimated by private interests, set aside 25m acres for the public. Ranchers and miners, who had only recently participated in the ethnic cleansing of the landscape (relocating its last original inhabitants to reservations), were apoplectic.
President Theodore Roosevelt, further concerned about the rapidly disintegrating public commons, created the United States Forest Service in 1905. Recognizing the need to preserve large tracts of land for the benefit of all Americans, Roosevelt eventually established 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, four national game preserves, five national parks and 18 national monuments, protecting 230m acres of public land.
The second flare-up came in the late 70s, following the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, the Endangered Species Act in 1973, and most importantly the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) in 1976. The FLPMA ended homesteading, and mandated that the Bureau of Land Management begin to include the concepts of preservation and conservation, not merely extraction, in managing land. The self-appointed leader of the 70s movement was Cal Black, a uranium miner and Mormon from Utah who threatened to “blow up bridges, ruins and vehicles. We’re going to start a revolution” – a revolution that would result in extensive vandalism to ancient Anasazi sites in Utah.
In the third Sagebrush RebellionBundy told the press that his band of outlaws intended to use the refuge as a “base for patriots”. They planned on staying several years, “freeing the lands up, getting ranchers back to ranching and miners back to mining and loggers back to logging”.
The US constitution itself explicitly states that Congress has the power to “dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States”. Furthermore, the Supreme Court as far back as 1922 “firmly settled that Congress may prescribe rules respecting the use of public lands”. Bundy and co. reject this interpretation, insisting that the states themselves have sovereign power over their land, which is even more preposterous. To move from being a territory, and actually admitted as a state of the United States of America, all western state constitutions have a clause similar to this one in Utah law: “That the people inhabiting said proposed state do agree and declare that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within the boundaries thereof.” Americans as a whole own 640 million acres of land.
This insistence that the feds “hand over” is so that it can be made profitable through clear-cutting, strip mining and overgrazing . In January of this year, Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz introduced a bill that would eliminate law enforcement within the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. In February, Utah governor Gary Herbert urged the Trump administration to revoke the recently designated Bears Ears national monument in southern Utah. Given that most states are strapped for cash, unable to even effectively manage the land they already have, it is entirely probable that large chunks of the west would be sold off to the highest bidder most likely a hedge fund manager or an international conglomerate.