Public lands are perfectly constitutional

Keywords: Durango Herald,

After reading the article on the 9/12 Project’ forum for county commissioner candidates, I am not impressed by Republican candidate James Lambert. He reportedly believes the U.S. Forest Service and federal ownership of public lands is unconstitutional. Lambert is directly quoted as saying “Government should not own land.”

Lambert and his “patriot” cohort have uncritically adopted an ideology that fetishizes an imagined constitution according to their own wishful delusions, yet without really knowing the substance of the actual U.S. Constitution. Article 4, Section 3, Clause 2 gives Congress the authority to transfer public lands to state or private ownership, but is not obligated to do so. It gives Congress the authority to make laws and regulations to manage public lands, and the authority of the executive branch to manage and enforce these laws. I have yet to find the passage in the constitution that states that the Federal government does not have the authority to hold public lands.

How did these lands come into the ownership of the United States government in the first place? These lands were bought from colonial powers or won in wars of conquest from Mexico, yet without the consent of the indigenous inhabitants. Land came into the realm of private property only through the deeding of such lands through Homestead Acts by the federal government. Private property (or public property) only exists as it is defined by the laws and actions of government. These are the basic facts of the matter.

If Lambert wishes for public lands to be sold off to the highest private bidder, he should be running for Congress to get that ball rolling. But imagine what would happen if that actually came to pass. The super wealthy billionaires of the world would buy up all that public land for resource extraction without environmental regulations. They would cordon it off for their own private hunting resorts, and charge exorbitant fees for the use of those formerly public lands. Some people may have grievances, legitimate or not, over some relatively small details, but that doesn’t mean public lands are “unconstitutional.”

Sheldon Baker