Want your own land? Look no further than the US Department of Agriculture, which currently has several land grant programs directed at enhancing rural development, and attracting ranchers, farmers, and even the adventure-hungry cowboy. These initiatives are extensive and historically have been successful in enticing Americans to make the switch to a rural lifestyle. Today, however, the government has taken hold of most of the land in the west, and has made it nearly impossible to find land that is not owned by a municipality or the federal government.
The Wild (Government owned) West
The federal government holds a significant portion of land in the United States, particularly as one travels westward. Alaska boasts 60% government ownership, a high proportion topped only by Nevada with its 80% federally owned fields. Resistance to the government stranglehold on land has erupted periodically in the past, primarily during the Occupy protests. However, only 7% of people actually live in municipalities that dominated by federally owned land. Instead, in many states, the government is most interested in selling land to people(such as ranchers and farmers) who will work the land. Thus, most government controlled land is rurally based. However, the challenges faced by land leasees are universal, whether or not they are a rancher. One news outlet reported that because a leasee was late on land payment due to a straggling economy, the governemnt dispatched federal agents to round up his cattle, seize his property and strip him of his land. There was an armed response by the ranchers, and a successfully staged an occupy protest that caught the attention of rural farmers across the U.S. However, nothing besides attention ever came of these demonstrations, despite the fact that these situations happen all over the US. The federal government continues to get away with owning nearly a third of national land, and charging people to use it, without ever providing them with the opportunity to own it.
Why is Government Land Ownership a Problem?
Government greed in its attempt to acquire land has been a hallmark of American domestic policy since its origin. From the time of the Louisiana Purchase, through the Trail of Tears and the unlawful and amoral removal of Native Americans from their homes, conquest has been the tale that history tells all too frequently. The newly absorbed land was then used to lure rural special interest groups and ranchers west, with the idea that the land would be subsidized if the leasees would agree to work it. Today, these same laws and ideas remain in effect.
How the Government Land Ownership Problem Persists Today
Republicans are consistently pouring money into lobbying and other channels, in an attempt to make money off the land by mining, drilling for oil and natural gas. Democrats flip-flop on the issue because no majority has a solid belief or plan to stop the land feuds. Activist groups fight for the lands to be protected, no matter what happens with them, so they are contantly at odds with big oil and other companies hellbent on drilling wherever possible.
"This land was made, for you, and me." An old adage, as American as they come, but is it true? Certainly not in the west. Perhaps "This land was made for you and me (but read the fine print)" might be more accurate.