The Public Interest

The timely end of the Sagebrush Rebellion

Frank J. Popper

Summer 1984

PRIMARILY through the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the federal government owns 86 percent of Nevada. The state has long resented the federal landlord, particularly because of the environmental and natural resource regulation it imposes. In 1979, the state filed a lawsuit claiming the BLM land, and the Sagebrush Rebellion was born. Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming, all with large federal ownerships and state grievances, made similar claims through legislation. The legislature of Alaska, then the state with the highest federal ownership (96 percent), endorsed what it called “the efforts of the Western states to gain control of their lands.” The Rebels sought to put large parts of the federal holdings-the public lands of the West—into the hands of states, localities, individuals, and corporations. It was a populist land reform promoted by rural conservatives against their age-old enemy, the federal government.

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