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Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Homestead Act

How The Cliven Bundy Saga Exposes America's Most Enduring Myth
In the last century several different models were tried to encourage ranchers like Bundy’s ancestors to use public lands – property owned by all Americans, in common – to graze cattle, including the U.S. Grazing Service (a creation of the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934) and today’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM), founded in the 1940s. Both federal agencies installed token costs per head of livestock called a grazing fee, and issued grazing permits that were periodically renewed.
Cliven Bundy tore up his grazing permit in 1992 because he disagreed with its terms. Since that time he has grazed his cattle with no permit on government lands. This makes him worse than a “moocher” – it makes him a trespasser, on property that every one of us owns in common.
The two most visible legacies of the Homestead Act and its successors remain our nation’s huge rural middle class and the checkerboard grid of quarter-sections you can see from the window of an airplane flying seven miles up. But a third can be found hidden in our current, still-unresolved debates about race and the role of government.