Legal arguments for state takeover of public lands are losers in the courts, says report from Western Attorneys General

Sep 30, 2016

Arches National Park, Utah

Andy Porter, Flickr
Wilderness Society today issued this statement on a new report from the Western Attorneys General.

As reported in an AP story today, a report recently adopted by the Public Lands Subcommittee of the Conference of Western Attorneys General (CWAG) shows there is little legal basis for claims being made by those pushing a land seizure movement suggesting the United States is legally obligated to transfer public lands to the states. 

The report analyzed the legal arguments often used by those who argue against federal management of US public lands, including the Property and Enclave Clauses of the U.S. Constitution and rulings by the Supreme Court. Among the findings:

·        The report contradicts the conclusion made by the land seizure proponents that "legitimate legal theories exist" to support efforts to gain ownership or control of U.S. public lands.

·        The report cites pertinent Supreme Court decisions going back a century or more, which have consistently held that the U.S. has exclusive and practically unlimited authority to hold the public lands indefinitely.

The following statement is from Jeremy Garncarz, senior director for The Wilderness Society:

“There is near unanimous agreement amongst attorneys representing the western states that the agenda of seizing America’s shared forests, parks, refuges and other public lands has virtually no legal merit and is a waste of critical lawmakers’ time and taxpayer dollars.

“Americans should not be robbed of their cultural and natural heritage because of faulty legal claims that don’t hold weight in a court of law.”

The CWAG Subcommittee was chaired by the Wyoming Attorney General and included attorneys from the Attorney General Offices of Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Washington.


Legal, policy and economic experts debunk myths about public lands here.

Read the full CWAG report here.

The Wilderness Society is the leading conservation organization working to protect wilderness and inspire Americans to care for our wild places. Founded in 1935, and now with more than 700,000 members and supporters, The Wilderness Society has led the effort to permanently protect 109 million acres of wilderness and to ensure sound management of our shared national lands.    



Jeremy Garncarz, Senior Director, 970-422-4348,

Kate Mackay, Director-Wildlands Communications, 602-571-2603,