This West Is OUR West

Angus McIntosh on the legal term "public lands" and what it really means

OK I’ve bit my tongue as long as I can. There are a lot of well intentioned, patriotic, freedom loving Americans on this website [Idaho on Fire Facebook page]. Unfortunately, I have seen a steady stream of unintentional misinformation and uninformed opinions based on ignorance of the law and the history of American land disposal.

Can we agree that people don’t get to change the clearly defined meaning of legal terms just to support their personal views or beliefs? I’m talking about the legal term “public lands”. This is not some nebulous term that takes on different meanings depending on the goals or opinions of the user. The term “public land” has maintained the same essential meaning since the earliest days of the country. The definition is found in Words and Phrases, Corpus Juris, American Jurisprudence and at least 18 Supreme Court decisions. See also the Federal Power Act of 1920 and FLPMA 1976. The definition of “public lands” is: land and interests in land owned by the United States and subject to disposal under the federal land laws. If someone already has a claim or right attached to it then that land is NOT “public land”. In the 1920 FPA Congress specifically said that National Parks, Forests, and other Reservations are NOT public land. The reason they are not is because private property rights already had rights attached to them and therefore were not available for “disposal”. Congress had passed numerous statutes after 1853 granting various split-estate property rights (rights of occupation, cultivation, rights of way, water rights, etc.) see Kinney Coastal Oil v Kieffer 1928, Watt v Western Nuclear 1983, Wilson v Cook 1946). From a legal point of view the only “public land” is “INTERESTS in land” retained by the US and available for disposal (i.e. Minerals and commercial timber). The surface of a grazing allotment is not “pubic land” but is a split estate. It is a property right owned by the rancher. That is why the land is not available for disposal (Homesteading, etc.) because it already has property rights attached to it. Sometime called “multiple use” lands these are NOT “public lands”.

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Angus McIntosh, PhD, foremost expert on Private Property Rights on Federal Land, lives on the Western Slope of Colorado, is also the director of natural resources law and policy research at Land and Water USA, a property rights group in LaSalle, Colorado.

He says, “Always ask the feds to ‘show me the statute’ and don’t forget everything they do is subject to your prior existing rights.”

Land And Water USA encourages you to have your local printer print signs with this exact verbiage:

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LAW USA finds that 12″ X 18″ Metal signs with convenient hanging holes are best for farms/ranches/feedlots etc.

You and your printer decide the size and fabrication that best suits you. Make sure you use this exact verbiage!

Urbanites have stickers made to place on their electric meters, and plastic signs for their gates.

If every private property owner placed these No Trespassing signs on their property,

we could diminish the negative impact of federal overreach overnight!


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