Denver — Wyoming is about to join the "sagebrush rebellion." The Legislature passed a bill last week that puts Wyoming on record as favoring a state takeover of much of the federal land within its boundaries and sets up the mechanism to do this.
As of this writing, Gov. Ed Herschler (D) had not signed the bill, but there was good reason to believe that he would. "I'm supporting the sagebrush rebellion," Mr. Herschler declared at a recent press conference.
Once the bill is signed into law, Wyoming will join Nevada and Utah in a legal battel against Washington over lands controlled by the US Bureau of Land Management (a part of the Department of the Interior).
While the federal government controls substantially less than 10 percent of the land in the East and Midwest, 64 percent of the territory of 13 Western states is federally owned.
Several other Western states could soon swell the ranks of this rebellion further:
* In New Mexico, a takeover bill has been passed by the House of Representatives and is wending its way through the Senate. It appears Gov. Bruce King will sign the measures if it reaches his desk.
* In Arizona, a comprehensive measure has been proposed that includes some unique features: It would enter federal lands in the state tax roles this year and prohibit the federal government from buying any more land in the state.
* In Idaho, four measures have been proposed, but their chances of passage in the state Senate appear in doubt.
Many Westerners feel an increasing sense of isolation and even alienation from Washington. The federal establishment is perceived as dominated by Eastern interests and perspectives, with little or no emphasis given to uniquely Western circumstances and problems.
Behind the so-called revolt of Western states are numerous grievances, including recent federal actions on wilderness preservation, water use, and energy development, which are singled out by Westerners as contrary to regional interests.
In a sense, it is a return to the politics of yesteryear. The West has a tradition of hostility to big government that goes back as far as its 19th century battles over railroad routes and rates, protective tariffs, and free silver.