More than 150 people filled the Dolores Community Center on Monday night to hear a presentation on federal management and involvement in public lands in Colorado.
The discussion was led by Bill Howell, executive director of the Southeastern Utah Association of Local Governments, and Bill Redd, a former San Juan County, Utah, commissioner. The pair authored a book titled Statehood: The Territorial Imperative, which examines the relationship between the American states and the federal territorial land system.
Howell and Redd were invited to Montezuma County to specifically address U.S. Forest Service management decisions in the Boggy-Glade, Mancos-Cortez and Rico-West Dolores management areas.
Controversy has arisen in the area regarding road closures, the elimination of motorized cross-country travel and game retrieval. Changes are currently being implemented in the Mancos-Cortez management area, and management plans are being revised for the Boggy-Glade and Rico-West Dolores regions.
Casey McClellan, a Montezuma County landowner and former member of the county planning commission, organized the presentation and invited Howell and Redd to the county. McClellan said he first met the pair when his family was investigating a historic road claim. Howell and Redds expertise in the area of federal land management and state governance is beneficial to Montezuma County, McClellan said.
This meeting is all about the sharing of information, and it is an educational opportunity for us all, he said. It is our chance to pick the brains of two individuals that know this issue inside and out.
Howell and Redd each addressed the audience, taking time to explain the work that was done in San Juan County regarding historic road access and federal land management and discuss the conclusions they have come to in their years of study on the issue.
Redd specifically addressed U.S. Revised Statute 2477, passed by Congress in 1866, which states the right-of-way for the construction of highways across public lands not otherwise reserved for public purposes is hereby granted. Redd stated the statue allows state and local governments authority over roadways.
The federal government gave that grant to the states, and it is irrevocable, Redd said. When it comes to the sovereignty of a state, nothing is more important than action upon its own territory. The purpose is for people to make their living and to protect their right to do it; to go out and take the wilderness and turn it into something useful.
Howell moved away from the discussion of roads and took a look at the broader picture of federal lands. He cautioned those listening against going too far in cooperating with federal agencies.
If you communicate and cooperate and collaborate, you have given up the most precious thing that we do have, the freedom that was given to us by the framers (of the Constitution) in 1776, Howell said. If you communicate and cooperate and collaborate, you are capitulating. What we are giving up is our state territorial sovereignty to which we are entitled under the Constitution.
Howell leaned heavily on what he called the first principles found in the Magna Carta, Articles of Confederation and U.S. Constitution. He maintained that the U.S. founding documents do not make allowance for the federal government to own property other than for the purpose of grant or sale.
The definition of public lands is lands subject to disposition, Howell said. The federal government was never supposed to keep the lands. They were supposed to dispose of that property and put the proceeds in the general fund.
Howell and Redd believe that in owning property throughout the states, the federal government has violated the enabling acts of the Western states. The acts give up right and title to all unappropriated public lands but do not surrender governance, Howell said.
We would suggest that insofar as our research has show us, the federal government has violated the Constitution by putting public lands in federal ownership, Howell said. Our enabling acts have been violated and broken, and it is actionable.
Howell stated he and Redd are not hostile to the federal government, but they believe states must demand their rights granted in the Constitution.
We are suggesting we demand our rights and, if it is necessary, we take legal action, suing the United States for specific performance, Howell said. We are suggesting that the solution is not capitulation but to take our sovereignty back.
Reach Kimberly Benedict at [email protected]