- Historic Sites
Does The West Have A Death Wish?
Before there were Western states, there were public lands—over a billion acres irrevocably reserved for the people of the United States. The Sagebrush Rebels are the most recent in a series of covetous groups bent on “regaining” what was never theirs.
June/july 1982 | Volume 33, Issue 4
Disillusionment and low morale brought the Forest Service to a serious crisis point. The most outspoken foresters in the trouble spots were transferred to other regions and to responsibilities having nothing to do with range management. The Denver Post called the transfers a “purge.”
The land-grab of the 1940’s failed in that there was no outright return of public land to private individuals. There was nothing to return, nor was there anybody in particular to return it to, after all, since the land had always been federally owned.
But the stockmen scored some farreaching victories. They had been heard in Washington, and their harriers had been removed. The land-grab succeeded in a subtle way, as the Sagebrush Rebellion might succeed. Private ownership of land, the grabbers realized then and the rebels realize now, is not essential. Control is. And that can be obtained by reducing the size and authority of those federal agencies that are so troublesome. Today the administration promises the West it will be a “good neighbor” and will not look over the fence or peer into the windows too closely.
If, as De Voto remarked, there is a beauty in historical continuity, then there is an ache also, for there is a dread of repeating what went before—when so much has been lost, when there is still so much to lose.