The writer Wallace Stegner once described the American West’s historic relationship with the federal government as “go away, and give us more money.” Under the Clinton and Obama administrations, D.C.’s assertions of authority were onerous enough for some Western states, such as Utah, to start doubting that the money was worth it. The Trump years may have restored the historic pattern. Recently departed Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke insisted that public lands remain under federal ownership, but he also wanted federal actions—including the feds’ ample funding—to be based on Western states’ wishes.
But potential fault lines between those states and the feds still exist. Consider the case of the California wildfires, writes Robert Nelson in his review of In Defense of Public Lands: The Case Against Privatization and Transfer, by Steven Davis.