What's all the fuss about?
By Dexter Gill
News Flash! On August 1, 1876, a new state was officially formed out of parts of the western territories. The boundaries were defined and it was declared that all the lands therein, were to be the State of Colorado. The people in the territory had been petitioning Congress to form the state since early 1860s, but the political climate in and after the Civil War was not good timing. The eastern Congress wanted to maintain political control in Congress.
Finally on March 3, 1875 (Stat. 474) An Act to Enable the People of Colorado to Form a Constitution and State Government, and for the Admission of the said State into the Union on an Equal footing with the Original States in all respects whatsoever. Sect. 2 on Boundaries stated the said state of Colorado shall consist of all the territory included within the following boundaries. It then defined what the boundaries are today, making up the entire state. At statehood, the total population of Colorado was about 150,000. Obviously much of the lands of the new state had not been settled or claimed other than some agricultural, ranches, mine claims and small towns. The war was over and the government needed money. The Congress added a provision in the enabling act to provide that the federal government would be the agent to help dispose of and sell the unappropriated (unsettled and unclaimed) lands on behalf of the new state, with 95 percent of the sale revenues going to the federal government. Of course to do that the feds would need control of those unappropriated lands.
This was the beginning of today’s conflict. Why? Well, since our governmental system that was agreed to operates under the Rule of Law, and the Constitution was agreed to be the Supreme Law of the Land. The founders were very intent on establishing private property and greatly limiting governmental property. The new country was to be made up of a union of states (the federal government didn’t even exist at that point). To that end, right at the beginning the authorization for the new federal government to own land was specifically identified in Art. I, Sect. 8, clause 17… “all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings;” This is still the law regulating federal land ownership within boundaries of any state. Well, what was states formed from? The new federal government was to be authorized to obtain new territory to form new states out of. This authorization was established in subsequent Art. IV Sect. 3, and is frequently misquoted as the “property clause” authorizing the federal government to own and control lands within States in violation of Art. I, Sect. 8 of the Constitution.
So, at statehood, the federal government had no Constitutional authority to hold on to the unappropriated lands as they were now lands of the new state, not territorial land. The motive might have been good, but it was in violation of the Supreme Law of the Land. An effort was made to dispose of the lands, as per the compact, through the Homestead Act, which worked for many, including my own family. However, there were still lots of lands unsold.
The federal government stopped trying to sell, and rather than hand the lands of the states back over to the states, established federal agencies to oversee and manage the lands until they ultimately sold, supposedly for the states’ benefit. The long sordid story is the federal agencies began to grow and the eastern-controlled Congress decided to violate statehood compacts of the western states and keep the unappropriated lands, commonly called public lands, in control of the federal government, a violation of the Supreme Law. Up till then nobody really was bothered by the law being ignored and broken, as the land was being managed for benefit of the resources and local economies and recreational uses.
Then came establishment of national parks, wilderness areas, roadless areas, all controlled by federal agencies, again all in violation of the Supreme Law. With the federal government in control of 36 percent of the State of Colorado, the private lands and communities are like in-holdings in federal land blocks. The now massive federal agencies began to end resource management and use, greatly affecting local economies and future of the resources. Wood-products use, water production, recreation opportunity, forage production, wildlife habitat all began to go down while waste from non-use, disease and wildfire increased. Access to enjoy, use, and recreate began to be shut out for most of the public. The land was no longer generating any economic benefit, but was spending taxes to close down access and use. The light began to dawn on many of the public, questioning, “what has happened?”
By ignoring the Supreme Law and enacting unconstitutional laws, a federal land base larger than the entire country of Hungary, Portugal, or Austria has been created in the heart of Colorado. The federal land cancer operates under its own rules and laws. The American dream of liberty to live and build your own life has been snuffed by the cancer. So what is the fuss all about? There are people that still care about the future of our county, state and country and are willing to sacrifice their own time and money to control the cancer and restore and heal the land and resources for the future. The fight is against those that do not believe in the tenets of the Constitution and God-given individual liberty for all. That is what the Fuss Is All About!
Dexter Gill is a retired forest manager who worked for private industry, three Western state forestry agencies, and the Navajo Nation forestry department. He writes from Lewis, Colo.