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Editor’s note: Listen to this column online.

Why should the federal government dictate how land is used in Florida, or in Utah, or any other state? In the first place, land should be managed by the owner. In a free society, property – especially land – is an extension of the person who owns it. To acquire the property, the owner had to invest his time and effort or receive the property as a gift from another. In any event, property is a part of the owner. Just as a person determines how he will use his time and effort, he should also be able to determine how he will use his property. Should a person use time and effort – or his property – to inflict damage upon another person, the damaged person can rely on government to hold the guilty party accountable. This is government’s only legitimate role in property owned by others.

Aside from the 10 square miles set aside by the Constitution for the capital, and land purchased with the approval of state legislatures, the federal government should own no land within any state. The Constitution does authorize the federal government to “… make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other property belonging to the United States. …”

The evolution of the equal footing doctrine aside – logic, reason and common sense should demand that land within a state should belong to the state, or to the individual citizens of the state who have acquired it. Land in territories that are not states is subject to regulation by the federal government. There is zero justification for the federal government to own, claim to own, or control by decree or regulation the land within the borders of any state.

But it does.

Thomas Woods explains how states can reject unconstitutional federal laws in “Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century”

In Florida, the federal government continues to dictate how land is used. The Fish and Wildlife Service has now identified several counties it feels the need to control. There are folks in Florida who don’t feel the need to have the federal government control the use of their land. Stop Federal Sprawl is more than 21,000 local people who have the right idea about the role of the federal government. This news clip explains the government’s claim and the people’s concern.

The federal government wants to control the use of 150,000 acres of private property north of Lake Okeechobee, by designating the area as a “Wildlife Refuge.” The plan is to appropriate 700 million tax dollars to buy 50,000 acres and to secure conservation easements on the remaining 100,000 acres. The justification is that this area is the headwaters for the Everglades and has the potential of polluting the Everglades if the land is misused.

Currently, if a private landowner in the area pollutes the Everglades he can – and will – be held responsible and be required to restore any damages he has caused. This is current law, and it is enforced every day. There is no need for the federal government to waste $700 million in taxpayer funds and whatever else it takes to secure 100,000 acres of conservation easement.

Free-market capitalism demands that private owners be left alone to use their land as they choose. Only in a socialist, communist or dictatorship form of government can the authorities arbitrarily take control of the use of private property.

In Utah, however, and in other Western states, the Department of Interior has issued Secretarial Order No. 3310 that takes control of land that should be private or state property. This bureaucrats’ decree ignores years of state and local planning, and completely disregards requirements of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Western states have been fighting to gain control of the land within their borders for years, but the feds have found ways to keep control of the land, even though they are no longer a territory, but a state, supposedly accepted into the union on an equal footing with all other states. The reality, of course, is that the federal agencies control the use of land, which they refuse to turn over to the state, and the states are tired of it.

Meeting in Salt Lake City recently, representatives from several Western state legislatures, congressional delegations, and state and local agencies began to develop a strategy to oppose Secretarial Order No. 3310. The federal bureaucrat issued a decree with no regard for the requirement in FLPMA and NEPA that the federal government must coordinate with state and local governments to protect local custom and culture. Federal agencies routinely ignore these laws unless local officials or organizations hold their feet to the fire. Montana legislator Derek Skees has introduced a bill titled, “Transfer management of certain federal public lands” (HB-506), that gives the federal government 90 days to prove that its claim to Montana land meets the constitutional requirement of Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17, or the land will be claimed by the state.

The federal government is beginning to feel the heat, as more and more local organizations and state and local officials are getting educated and encouraged to stand and no longer be steamrolled by an out-of-control bureaucracy. Still, the best way to put a collar around the neck of this runaway federal government is to repeal the 17th Amendment and return real governing power to a state-elected Senate in Washington.

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