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A New Era in Public Land Policy? The Shift Toward Reacquisition of Land and Natural Resources

James R. Rasband, Megan E. Garrett, Proceedings of 53rd Annual Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Institute (2007)

The traditional account of the history of public land law divides public land policy into four historical periods. The standard narrative is of a period of acquisition of land from Indian tribes and European powers, which was overlapped and followed by a period of disposition during which the nation sold and granted away land and resources under a variety of public land laws in an effort to encourage settlement of the West. Toward the conclusion of the nineteenth century, the story continues, the frontier closed and the nation began to retain, reserve, and set aside public lands as parks, monuments, refuges, and national forests for permanent public ownership. The final part of the traditional story is that following this shift to retention, public land law and policy entered, and remains in, a fairly stable era of management where the primary focus has been managing the lands the nation retained. In broad brush strokes, law and policy during the management era has revolved around disputes about whether public lands should be managed for multiple use or withdrawn and dedicated to narrower preservation purposes.
The purpose of this chapter is to consider whether the nation has entered a new era of public land policy that might be described as a period of reacquisition. Rather than describing the current period as one of “management,” this chapter asks whether we should inste