Groups that take their ideological cues from Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy have been linked to legislation in 11 Western states that aim to turn over federal lands to the states, according to a new report.
The Center for Western Priorities report comes on the heels of as criticism of the government from Tea Party and Western lawmakers for what they call poor management of federal land. They have argued that the states are better positioned to take care of those lands, and cite large maintenance backlogs at federal parks.
The argument for promoting land transfers to the states has "made its way into the mainstream political debate," the report noted. But it said the origins of the movement lie with several anti-government extremist groups, some of which have gained prominence since the April 2013 armed standoff over the Bureau of Land Management's attempt to round up Bundy's cattle because he owed $1 million in federal grazing fees.
The Bundy incident touched on states' rights issues, as Bundy contended the federal government had no authority over land he considered solely in Nevada's jurisdiction. Lawmakers such as Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., praised Bundy's push, and the GOP presidential candidate met with Bundy in June to tout state control of endangered species and other public lands issues.
The worldview has gained more supporters in the past three years, growing into what the Center for Western Priorities report called the "land seizure movement," which has inspired legislation to turn over control of federal land to states in several states.
"Many of the Western state legislators who have introduced land seizure bills are directly linked to the extremist groups or subscribe to the anti-government ideologies," the report said.
The report said those anti-government extremist groups don't recognize the federal government and instead view counties and local governments as supreme. These local control groups are associated with militias and other militant factions, the report said.
Those groups evolved from the post-Reconstruction era Posse Comitatus movement that regained popularity in the 1970s, in which adherents didn't recognize the federal law enforcement authority and as a result didn't pay taxes, the report said. That philosophy fed into "sovereign citizens" and "county supremacy" movements, the latter of which recognized county sheriffs as the supreme law of the land.
Conservation groups like the Center for Western Priorities have generally been skeptical of handing more control of land over to the states, arguing that the federal government is more committed to stewardship of the land.
"Although land seizure proponents have couched their arguments carefully, a wholesale grab of American lands is one of the most far-reaching changes to public lands management considered in recent memory," the report said.