Where are the Old Western Virtues of Independence?

I fear that the days of benign federal neglect are over

By Art DeJong

I recently enjoyed riding Amtrak’s Empire Builder from Wisconsin across the plains to Whitefish to revel in the skiing and vibe of Big Mountain. I was, however, startled by the number of opinion pieces in the Beacon arguing that it is a good thing that about 30 percent of your state is managed like a federal reservation for Montanans. These writers seem to imply that Montanans are either less competent than the Feds or too corrupt to manage much of their state land.

As much as I value national parks, I doubt that people in our state, where the Feds control 5.6 percent of the land, would cede management of our large number of state parks and forests to the Feds. Given the present trajectory in Washington, I fear that the days of benign federal neglect are over and that you have more to fear from the federal mismanagement than we from state mismanagement.

In fact, as I passed through the farmland of the Great Plains, I was glad that the Homestead Act has put so much of our breadbasket into the hands of private farmers. Would those of us who like to eat really want farmers and ranchers to serve as surfs on vast Midwestern federal estates?

If even Montanans have lost the old western virtues of independence and prefer to rely on the Feds to manage so much of their state, what hope is there for wimpy easterners.

Art DeJong
Sheboygan, Wisconsin

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