Federal Land, Western Anger

The Sagebrush Rebellion and Environmental Politics

R. McGreggor Cawley

In 1979 the Nevada state legislature passed a bill providing for state control of certain lands within the state boundaries under the administration of the Bureau of Land Management. Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming immediately followed suit. Public land users reacted swiftly and the Sagebrush Rebellion was on.

Westerners, driven by the sheer size of the federal estate (99 percent of BLM lands are located in twelve western states) and angered by what they perceived as undue influence by the environmental movement on federal policies, sought to protect and control the resource and recreational use of public lands that they deemed essential to their state economies.

“Of great interest to students of U.S. federalism. Cawley presents a fine case study of the background and denouement of this flashfire in which a region of fifteen states declared war on the property clause of the U.S. Constitution.”

Publius: The Journal of Federalism

“Because this book provides an excellent historical backdrop for these tumultuous times in the changing conservation story, it should be read by all policy analysts and would work well in classrooms where policy is studied.”

Western Historical Quarterly
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In this book, R. McGreggor Cawley objectively investigates the Rebellion, looking at the driving force behind the movement, the strategies used by the Rebels, and the consequences of the controversy. He examines how the definitions of key federal land management concepts, such as conservation, influenced policymaking and explores tensions that pitted the West against other regions and the federal government.

In the process, he analyzes James Watt's beleaguered tenure as secretary of the interior and the Reagan administration's proposal to sell federal lands and shows how the conflict created an unexpected division within the environmental movement.

Going beyond the Rebellion, Cawley offers provocative interpretation of events in federal land policy from the 1960s to the 1990s and establishes a framework for assessing future developments in federal land policy.

About the Author

R. McGreggor Cawley is associate professor of political science at the University of Wyoming.

Additional Titles in the Development of Western Resources Series