1980 Forest Service Response

In the effort to defend its lands against the possible conversion to state control, the Forest Service prepared materials to highlight the value of the national forests as part of the federal landbase. The agency identified and analyzed a number of potential impacts that would come with a transfer of title of western public lands from national forests to states. Among these, the agency pointed to increased logging that would likely take place in the effort to satisfy local demands or state school funds; increased access, generally, for extractive industry; restrictions to public access and recreational use; and the burden that such management would bring to state and local governments.

In its draft report, the Forest Service concluded with the ten main reasons for continued federal ownership of national forest lands:

  1. National forests represent a heritage that is of national and not just local interest.
  2. Transfer of lands would likely lead to eventual private ownership, and subsequently a loss of access, wilderness, opportunities for solitude, and other amenities.
  3. Environmental protections would be stronger under federal management.
  4. States would bear a significant financial burden trying to manage federal lands.
  5. The transfer of management to states would, "submerge professional management under short-term political expediency."
  6. While acknowledging some public relations problems, the Forest Service had citizen participation programs in place, with more and improved programs on the way.
  7. National forests under federal care would better protect national interests, such as security and energy needs.
  8. National forest management goals include social factors that states would likely dispose of in the quest to maximize profits.
  9. "Active and passive users" support the national forests -- not just those populations closest to the forest lands.
  10. The change in management from federal to state would increase uncertainties for management of national forest resources.

In sum, the agency declared, "Transfer of land ownership drastically vitiates the Nation's Heritage and its national security needs."

Many of the points raised by the Forest Service were on-target, and by 1983, the Sagebrush Rebellion in its immediate incarnation had fizzled, due to a combination of public opposition, court rulings against state control, inconsistent objectives by the rebels themselves, and the departure of Secretary Watt.


"Draft Working Material Concerning the Sagebrush Rebellion" by U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Policy Analysis Staff Group.