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Who owns the west?

Posted at 10:16 PM, Feb 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-12 00:16:27-05

The Oregon standoff in Burns has created a national dialogue as Americans contemplate who exactly owns the west.

The central agency that monitors public lands is the Bureau of Land Management which many of the militia supporter’s claim routinely take lands from ranchers and farmers.

Boise State Professor and expert on public land policy John Freemuth summed up the anger between ranchers and the federal government as general uncertainty.

“Most ranchers are unhappy with everything the BLM does but they would be very nervous about any privatization of that land because they [ranchers] don’t know if they are going to end up with that either,” Freemuth said. “The federal government has always been involved in the west. It’s not like the westerners built the west without the feds involvement.”

Owyhee County rancher Tim Lowry has been battling with the federal government over water rights.

“We were politely threatened with financial hardship by the Justice Department. They believe the water belongs to the United States and they would take it to the Supreme Court if necessary,” Lowry explained.

Senator Mike Crapo has spent years fighting for Idaho farmers and ranchers on Capitol Hill.

“More and more people are getting more and more frustrated,” Sen. Crapo said. “I really do believe the federal government has shown it has a real problem in public management. It needs to be addressed.”

Ranchers were angry at how federal agencies handled the Soda Fire which burned hundreds of thousands of acres in Owyhee County in 2015.

Several calls fielded by staff in the 6 On Your Side Newsroom involved ranchers blaming the lack of preventative care in maintaining underbrush which they say ultimately made the Soda Fire unmanageable for several months.

Professor Freemuth argues that despite any shortcomings with land management provided by the BLM, the costs of privatized firefighting could bankrupt the state.

“If you’re looking at the cost of administrating, the estimates range from $100 million to $300 million dollars.  Where is the state going to get that money?” Freemuth said.