One of the fundamental discontinuities between the states of the West Coast and the states of the East Coast is that there is far more land that is held by the federal government in the west than in the east, something that has caused considerable problems from time to time . I noted one of these occasions almost three years ago and said the following:
“There has long been a low-intensity simmering crisis in the West regarding enabling acts, though. Slightly over two years ago, around the time I returned to the United States and settled in Oregon, the state of Utah passed an act that set up a four-stage process to attempt to induce the United States to return federally owned land to state control as was promised a long time ago in the Utah Enabling Act of 1894, which set the terms by which Utah became a state in 1896. After more than a century of statehood, the federal government still owns almost two-thirds of the land in the state of Utah, and Utah wants a lot of that land back . Utah has eschewed any sort of conflict to the point of denying access or using force, but has sought a four-step process of education, negotiation, legislation, and litigation in order to gain control of over thirty million acres of land in Utah that is still under the control of the Department of the Interior.”
As it happens, this longstanding issue has apparently been resolved at least in part by our current president reducing the size of various federal lands, retroceding the land back to Utah. This, as you might imagine, has not made people uniformly happy, as there is a group of people who enjoy wilderness hikes and the like which want this land to remain generally off limits to development or settlement or farming but available to them as yuppie adventurers. There have always been disputes over land, but in this case the president’s action appears to be done for a variety of reasons that appear just. For one, the return of land to the state is in accordance with the laws of the land, contrary to the tendency of some recent administrations to increase the size of the lands under the control of the federal government. For another, it appears to be done at least in part to avoid the expense of continued litigation over the disputed wilderness land. With the land in Utah’s control, they can make it parks or sell it off as they wish.
Needless to say, any such decision in the present day comes with a great deal of controversy. A few whiny people appear to be of the mindset that to retrocede federal lands, whether in accordance with laws and covenants made in the past or according to the political worldview of the people in office at present, is a matter of theft. If such property rightfully belonged to the federal government, which appears doubtful, then it can be rightfully given without anyone else having the right to complain about it. If the land should have been in the possession of the good people of Utah but has been held by the government contrary to law and covenant, then no one has a right to complain, whatever the state of Utah decides to do with it. Yet in such a world in which we live, people will always complain. They will complain because certain people have a possessive feeling about federal lands even though they are meant to be commons and even though there is considerable injustice in the proportion of federal lands that are held among the various states based on when the states were settled rather than any other more just and equitable distribution. Yet regardless of whether the status quo is a good one or bad one, people will be resistant to any kind of change .
We cannot stop other people from feeling resistance to change, nor ought we to discount resistance to change in general. The fact that people become so accustomed to a reality, even when that reality is a bad one, is all the more reason we ought to have the greatest degree of restraint when it comes to allowing any sort of role to government in making laws and regulations. There are some people who will hate any kind of change and attack it, and to those people we owe a great deal of respect for their native conservatism that requires change to be done through consensus. There are others, though, who will simply hate what is done because it is done by a certain person, and that is a less praiseworthy sort of hatred, such as we see here. We cannot let our opposition to people or worldviews prevent us from being able to see that something they support may occasionally be worthy of support, when we know the rest of the story.
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