Rod Miller: The Empty Head of the Sagebrush Rebellion Raises Itself Again

Columnist Rod Miller writes, "If the Freedom Caucus was too lazy or too proud to get involved in the fed’s planning process on the BLM’s Draft Management Plan from Day One, but then cry crocodile tears when the horse is out of the barn, they aren’t worth listening to."

Rod Miller

September 28, 20234 min read

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Moviegoers know that a blockbuster franchise has a loooong shelf life, and the same tired old plot can be perpetuated simply by introducing a new cast of characters. Thus it is with the Sagebrush Rebellion, the political equivalent of Mad Max movies.

“Sagebrush Rebellion” refers to the nearly 50-year-old doctrine that states can and should wrest control of federal lands from the federal government when the feds’ management twists states’ knickers into a knot.

The origin of the Sagebrush Rebellion can be traced back to the Reagan years when the spear-rattling, chest-thumping and chants of “take our land back” first burst upon the silver screen. It was all theatrics then, and its all theatrics now.

As political theater, it's always effective. After all, fed bashing in western states like Wyoming is a necessary component of any successful political campaign. 

Tempting voters in the Cowboy State with sugarplum visions of booting the BLM and Forest Service bureaucrats off public lands and replacing them with Wyoming state managers always results in standing ovations and spikes in contributions.

But the Sagebrush Rebellion is nothing but hollow rhetoric, smoke & mirrors and childish fantasy.

While it sounds nice, it ignores the legal and constitutional realities that render it moot. When proponents say “take our land back”, they neglect the fact that federal lands never belonged to the State of Wyoming in the first place.

Both our Wyoming Constitution and our Act of Admission contain specific language that precludes the goal of the Sagebrush Rebellion. Simply stated, it ain’t gonna happen.

Nevertheless, as a political war cry, it's hard to beat “take our land back." And that chant is now coming from the lips of the new cast of characters in “Sagebrush Rebellion III: Return of the Charlatans."

Wyoming’s chapter of the Freedom Caucus is now stomping its feet and ululating that federal land managers must be driven off “our” federal lands and sent packing back to the Swamp. Fresh new faces in the same exhausted old franchise.

The most recent bone of contention that has provoked this sequel is the BLM’s Draft Management Plan for millions of acres in Southwest Wyoming. The document is out for public comment as we speak, and the Freedom Caucus has apparently seen some stuff in it that drove them to apoplexy.

Hence, the sturm und drang within their ranks and their call to “take back our land."

Don’t get me wrong, federal lands within Wyoming must be managed with the needs of the sovereign state in mind, not merely that of the general American public. Several federal laws governing land management specify just that, and there are numerous bookmarks in the federal laws that provide opportunities for the several western states to influence the planning process.

Any western state that ignores its opportunities to involve itself in that process and doesn’t start throwing its legal weight around from the get-go deserves to be ignored by the process. If it waits until the draft product is on the street before it pays attention, then pitches a Sagebrush Rebellion hissy-fit, that state has done its citizens a grave disservice.

The Draft RMP before us has been in the works for twelve years. Twelve years! 

Unless the Wyoming Freedom Caucus, as elected representatives of Wyoming citizens, can show me that they have been involved from the beginning – responding to early scoping documents, attending workshops and public planning sessions, commenting on the incremental development of this plan, communicating their concerns early on – then I’m calling bullshit on their late-stage hysterics.

Don’t construe that, by this column, I support any of the alternatives, nor that I conclude the document is a good one. I haven’t read the damn thing. I spent ten years in the Wyoming Governor’s Office torturing my eyeballs with countless federal resource manage plans, so I’ve done my time.

But I do know a lot about the process. I know enough about it to stand up on my hind legs and tell the Freedom Caucus that, if they are too lazy or too proud to get involved in the fed’s planning process from Day One, but then cry crocodile tears when the horse is out of the barn and invoke the Sagebrush Rebellion, they aren’t worth listening to.

Rod Miller can be reached at

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Rod Miller

Political Columnist