State of the Debate

That sounds awfully familiar: Public land battle in Montana ...

First Published      Last Updated Jun 09 2014 04:40 pm

Ownership of U.S. lands belongs just where it is — Jim Elliott | For The Helena (Mont.) Independent-Record

"When you have hunted, hiked, worked and snowmobiled — you name it— on Forest Service land for decades you can begin to feel as if you had an entitlement to that land. Call it the right of possession by proximity and use; but because no one knows that land like we do, or uses it like we do, we feel we should have a say in how it's managed.

"Some people think Montana should have the ownership, as well, and that's going too far.

"First of all, when Montana was granted statehood in 1889, we agreed to the terms of the Enabling Act passed by Congress creating Montana, Washington, and the Dakotas:

" 'That the people inhabiting said proposed States do agree and declare that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within the boundaries thereof.'...

" ...You may hear it said that the land should be 'given back' to the states, but that land never belonged to the states in the first place. ..."

Sound familiar? Hard to place? Here's a hint:

Truth about public land gets lost in translation — George Pyle | The Salt Lake Tribune

" ... The federal law that brought Utah into the Union, sharing language with similar laws creating other states, says the state has no claim to public lands within its borders, but that state coffers would receive a cut "of the proceeds of the sales of public lands lying within said State, which shall be sold by the United States subsequent to the admission of said State."

"[Ken] Ivory says that 'shall' means 'must,' and the land should have been sold 100 years ago. Other uses of the same word elsewhere in the law lend credence to that view. But an equally valid translation of that archaic language is that 'shall' is merely future tense, and means that, if and when the public lands are sold by the feds, the states will collect their share.

"But even if 'shall' does mean 'must,' it is a giant leap from there to the argument that because the land hasn't been sold to farmers and miners and developers means it must now be given to the state. ..."