Malcolm Wallop stepped up from the Wyoming State Legislature in
1976 to win a seat in the United States Senate. He is a third
generation rancher from Big Horn, Wyo., and although he had served
seven years in the state legislature, he was little known in the
cities of the Cowboy State. It was all the more remarkable when
he was elected to the senate on an almost entirely rural vote,
without carrying the urban districts of Cheyenne, Casper, Laramie,
or even Rock Springs.
Illustration ©John Bardwell
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For the next 18 years until his retirement in 1995, Senator Wallop
was uniquely the champion of western rural rights and sound country
reasoning. From his position as the ranking Republican member
of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Wallop fought to
protect and preserve the multiple uses of federal land, including
energy development. He was noted as a tax reformer, leading legislation
to cut inheritance and gift taxes, and as an authority on western
water law, repeatedly halting federal attempts to encroach on
states control of their water resources.
He is perhaps best known for coining the term "War on the West"
to describe what he saw as increasing attempts to "colonize" the
West through increased federal regulation and interference with
state and private property rights.
Senator Wallop continues to work for the freedoms of rural westerners
from his offices in Arlington, Va., where he is the chairman and
founder of the Frontiers of Freedom Institute.
RANGE: Senator, you get the credit for calling it "War on the
West." Did you mean by that that the country was dividing itself?
Wallop: Well, yes, I said it in the late 70s. I meant not that the country
was dividing itself, but that it was being divided by government,
and that federal authorities were seriously treating the West
not as states, but as colonial holdings. If you recall, the Carter
administration then was into Roadless Area Revue & Evaluation
and one of the things I said was that I thought RARE II was the
most serious environmental assault I had yet seen. They asked
"Why?" and I said because the more you restrict public access
to all the lands it has, the more impact you force onto the lands
that remain accessible.
They only think of one side of the equation at a time in Washington,
and so you had this assault on the public lands states and the
commodities industries. And the assault continues.
RANGE: Was there one thing that prompted you to call it War on
Wallop: No. It was a sort of huge combination of things. The federal
government began to assert its dominion over water rights. It
was the assertion that the federal government knew best and the
rest of us should keep quiet until it made up its mind. It was
the expanded assault on all the commodities industries, whether
livestock or timber or mining or oil and gas. And it was at the
same time the beginning of new impositions, such as unfunded mandates
to states. The western states with low tax bases and small governments
were really hard hit by the federal government telling them that
they had to do a variety of things in order to exist. We felt
it most in the West because we were more broadly exposed to the
whims of the federal government.
RANGE: It was about that time, I think, that those in the West
who protested started being called "extremists" or worse. There
was a politicization of people who might normally not have been
political at all.
Wallop: Whats interesting about that is that those of us in the West
who complained about the way we were treated, and gave it names,
were treated in return by being called names. It hasnt been the
habit of conservatives or westerners to call people names. When
we began to succeed, as we did, and Reagan recognized the whole
business of arrogant government; when we began to win a few things,
we began to be called the "outlaws," the "demons," the "rednecks"
and even "fascists"?all the various personal epithets that the
political left felt would stick.
RANGE: It was about that same time that the so-called "Sagebrush
Rebellion" was beginning on the premise of giving states control
over their public lands. Did you support that?
Wallop: I did and I do still. It was the natural result of the War on
the West. If theres going to be a war, then it makes sense that
somebody has to rebel against being captured! It was the consequence
of a very unfeeling, insensitive government that viewed our small
populations and, by comparison, our essentially small economies,
as theirs to toy with, and it was simply because they control
such a significant portion of our economic base, namely the land.
RANGE: Why do you think it became so apparent then? We have talked
to many people who were second and third generation folks on the
land and who in the past had genuine respect for range conservation
officers, for Forest Service people and for other federal employees
until they seemed to become more and more authoritative and, maybe,
arrogant. Why did that happen?
Wallop: Well, strangely, enough, it started with the Nixon people who
began to write environmental laws, because they felt that the
public wanted environmental laws and had no clue as to what they
should be. Ive talked to a number of people who wrote them and
who said there were no standards to go by, so they just conjured
up standards. What came from that was an emboldening and an expansion
of the environmental movement, and a response within the land
management agencies of a sort of unmitigated arrogance that said,
"We know best, and you couldnt possibly know what we do."
Some of us tried to make the case that "Heck, if weve been
doing so badly, there wouldnt be anything left to save out here."
But it was lost on them as they sat in their New York and Washington
salons and contemplated the West theyd never seen and many of
them had never even visited?only seen in pictures.
RANGE: So you saw it as something created out of their imagination?
Wallop: Yes, basically, and it wasnt just something in the West at that
time. As a matter of fact, all public agencies began at the end
of the Viet Nam War to view Americans as subjects, not citizens.
Thats when the big abuses of the IRS began. Thats when the Environmental
Protection Agency started.
OSHA, as you may recall, was the big issue in my own campaign.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration was promulgating
regulations as fast as it could write them, including such marvelous
things as everybody in agriculture having to be within five minutes
of toilet and lavatory facilities. My first senate campaign used
that regulation in an ad that showed a cowboy with a portable
toilet strapped on to his saddle. All of the public administrative
agencies began to get really arrogant. They figured they were
in dominion over us, not servants of us. It was particularly noticeable
in the West because we had so many of them affecting each segment
of our daily lives.
RANGE: Its my understanding that President Reagan at the time
was discussing with Interior Secretary Watt some possibility of
privatizing a great deal of federal lands or at least turning
them over to state control.
Wallop: I was in the leadership of that because I thought then, as I
do now, that private ownership of land is far better husbandry
than is public ownership. Yellowstone Park is probably the most
degraded piece of rangeland in America today, and if any ranchers
were managing their property that way, theyd lose it. But when
the feds do it, thats their privilege.
The difficult part of that was that a great many people who
agreed with us on all kinds of other issues were afraid that they
would lose their access to what they considered to be their ranches;
it was their land to fish or hunt or go camping on. Sadly, they
will find they would have had more access than the government
has in mind for them.
RANGE: As someone said, apparently many took the view that if
they could lease the land for a nickel, why risk losing it to
someone with more dollars...
Wallop: Well, there was another thing that happened. Among the things
that [Interior Secretary] Jim Watt started to do, which was intelligent
and extreme, but still needs to be done, was to reorganize the
federal holdings into at least sensible management blocks. One
of the sources of opposition to that became the small towns which
had either BLM or Forest Service offices in them that might have
been shut to make it more efficient. So one of the objections
to reorganizing the federal land mass was the defense of local
economies through federal payrolls.
RANGE: Do you think that at the time people in the rural West
were simply unaware of the pressures being exerted by the environmentalists?
Wallop: They were unaware of it because they, very legitimately, considered
themselves environmentalists and thought they had done a pretty
good job of taking care of most things. They couldnt imagine
that the principle purpose of the organized environmental movement
was less the protection of the environment than it was the acquisition
RANGE: Interior Secretary Babbitt seems to have expressed some
of that soon after taking office by saying he was going to end
the influence of what he called the "agricultural apparatchiks."
Wallop: Well, again, its interesting, is it not, that the liberals are
the only ones who devote themselves to epithets and name-calling?
But I have to tell you that this started with George Bush and
[then-EPA Director William K.] Reilly although not because he
[Bush] did it on purpose, but because he allowed it to happen.
The ironic thing is that when Bush was the vice president and
in charge of Reagans regulatory reform and paperwork reduction,
Reagans whole point was that public servants were just that?they
were public servants and not masters. And Reagan tried very hard
to change the attitude back to trying to seek solutions instead
of impose them.
When Bush became president and started seeking his "kinder,
gentler" country, he literally empowered the land management agencies
all over again to assert their dominion with arrogance. So when
Babbitt came along, they were well trained and ready to go. Babbitts
name-calling, and his view that somehow those of us who lived
on the land were inherently untrustworthy abusers who could not
succeed without destroying the resource, became the attitude of
the BLM, the Corps of Engineers, the EPA, the Forest Service,
and even the Park Service.
RANGE: Secretary Babbitt did encounter some congressional opposition,
though, from you and others. What seemed remarkable was his position
that he didnt care?that he would almost defy Congress and administratively
enact his program.
Wallop: Not "almost." Thats exactly what he did and he is not an aberration
in this administration. From the president on down, they view
laws as means by which others are controlled, but not they themselves.
Babbitt, to his credit, has one economic brain, and he knows that
if he can get control over both the land and the water that government
can forever have control over the West, because control of the
water is our economic lodestone. He has said that the worst mistake
the federal government ever made was ceding control of the water
to the states, and he has been trying to wrest that back in whatever
way he can. He has been trying to get the president to issue executive
orders as he did with the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
in Utah, which raised such a stink. They did it without consulting
the governor of Utah, without appropriations and without authorization.
And then to keep them quiet, they gave Utah 50 million bucks without
any authorization. So by the exercise of what most of us believe
was an unlawful presidential order, the public gets to pay huge
amounts of money. And now, theyre talking about setting aside
400,000 more acres as a national monument. Even Clintons own
people urgently counseled against doing that, and yet it was done.
They got away with it. So now another 400,000 acres is on their
plate. Its scary because they are destroying the base economy
of the West.
As you know, there are no sawmills left in the southwest region
of the Forest Service. Long-term timber contracts are simply voided
in the Tongass [National Forest] and the government had to pay
Louisiana Pacific 175 million bucks! Theyre spending our money
without ever getting any authorization to do it, and the renewable
resources are going to waste.
RANGE: What we hear people saying most often, Senator, is "Why"?
Why is this being done?
Wallop: Power. Its power. I promise you that from my experience in Washington,
the environmentalists are concerned far less about the environment
than they are about their power. I give you Senator [Robert T.]
Stafford of Vermont who was about the "greenest" person with whom
I ever served. But he was a Republican, and the environmentalists
all came out against him in his re-election. These people are
even after those who agree with them, unless they have the right
label before their name.
RANGE: What does that accomplish?
Wallop: It simply adds to their importance. It is the means by which
they get funded. I am absolutely persuaded of that. For example,
one of the things it accomplishes is that George Frampton, former
head of the Wilderness Society, became assistant secretary of
Interior and is now acting chairman of the Presidents Council
on Environmental Quality. Had anybody been on the side of production
where there were that many political ties into the private sector
as Frampton had into the environmental world, there wouldnt have
been a chance in hell that he would ever have been approved for
the nomination. It shows their power.
RANGE: This sort of thing alarms some people, Senator, to the
point that they begin to see conspiracies involving a "One World
Order," or the United Nations. Its difficult to see what this
sort of power accomplishes...
Wallop: Its easy to understand once you see that they dont care a damn
about what theyre doing. They care about the political effect
that it has. There was no circumstance, for example, under which
Yellowstone was threatened by the mine that was proposed outside
the park boundaries in 1996. I cant tell you the size of an earthquake
it would take to tip that mine so that the waters from it would
run into Yellowstone, but the quake would have to be monumental.
Yet the administration paid a huge price tag to stop the mine
and with it the reclamation work being done prior to beginning
mining. The company was providing a reclamation service that will
now never take place.
Its clear to me that neither the Park Service, the Forest
Service nor anybody else is going to do what the company was doing
to clean up old tailings and waste in that region from previous
mining operations. That will never take place now. If the environmentalists
had really cared about it, youd think that would have been one
of their conditions, but that was not even mentioned.
RANGE: That mine in particular drew a lot of media attention which
was apparently promoted by the environmentalists, was it not?
Wallop: The eastern media, and thats where the media is principally
located, is pretty widely uninformed about what is really happening
in the West. Once in a while somebody gets taken out and shown.
One of those was not even a reporter, but was Ralph Regula (R-Ohio)
who is chairman of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee
and had never been out West. He came out and couldnt imagine
where all this timber came from. I mean, he thought it was all
RANGE: It does seem that there are a lot of important people in
the East and in Washington who have never really seen the western
states except from its big cities...
Wallop: Well, its true. One of the interesting things is that Babbitt
made the statement in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee
when I was a ranking member that the West is the most urbanized
part of America, and therefore the highest and best use of public
land was recreational ownership and wildlife. But the reason the
West is the most urbanized, frankly, is because the habitat land
use is constrained by public ownership, which forces us to live
in more concentrated areas, for example, than people do in and
RANGE: Which maybe brings us back to today, 25 years into the
"war" if you will, when by all indications the Clinton administration
intends to increase control over public lands...
Wallop: Yes. The president and Gore are going to be asking for a billion
dollars a year for land acquisitions. Furthermore, the other real
threat Babbitt raised is coming to pass. And that is that he will
have made public land so expensive to operate that the people
whose livelihood is connected with it will go broke. And they
are going broke in incredible numbers. Right now, the federal
government is not only increasing the cost of being on that land,
but decreasing the economic support necessary to operate on that
land. So people are going away from the little towns and the rural
regions. Once theyre gone, the opposition is gone. But these
people, the Babbitt people, are not going to be around when the
rangeland begins to show the degradation that will come from non-use.
Theyll be long gone. And yet its the most environmentally irresponsible
move that could possibly be made.
RANGE: Is it also economically irresponsible?
Wallop: Of course it is. Because, as I tried to point out to Babbitt
at one of these hearings, the economic viability of the West is
dependent on having access to these lands. One of the reasons
why the Taylor Grazing Act and all those things came to pass was
so that there would not be just one big timber or ranching or
mining operation in the region to the exclusion of everything
else. There was meant to be multiple use because the multiple
users were the ones who came to the little towns in Wyoming or
Nevada or wherever, and they educated their kids. They bought
the shoes, the gasoline, the rifle bullets and all the other kinds
of things that keep little towns economically viable.
Now with Babbitts moves, these private holdings are being
subdivided because theyre no longer economically viable as operations
combined with grazing on public lands. So in western states youre
not getting a corresponding increase in tax revenues to match
the decrease in viable small towns and in people who pay the taxes.
For example, if youre going to buy a ranch down in Sublette
County, Wyo., say, and you buy it to "ranch the view," because
the Babbitts make grazing cattle on it obviously unviable, youre
going to let Babbitts employees and the taxable livestock go.
And youll sit there, but all the small families that used to
operate the ranch for you or provide you with services, the cowboys,
and the shoe salesmen and all those kinds of people, are not going
to be there. You alone wont be enough to make an economy.
RANGE: Some rural areas and some states have begun to sound that
alarm. Theres talk of some kind of western summit in the next
year and of a joint primary that would send a political message.
Is the West fighting back?
Wallop: Well, Im not sure that the western primary is going to do that
for us, because that just empowers California?or at least it empowers
the urban centers. The Denvers, the Albuquerques, the Renos, and
the Las Vegases dont seem to have any sense of what is being
lost around them. Their newspapers dont seem to pay it much mind.
So what is going to have to take place is a big meeting of county
commissioners, small town mayors, ranchers, even outfitters. People
RANGE: Would you recommend such a major meeting?
Wallop: Oh, yeah, so long as there is sufficient preparation to be sure
that it cant be taken over by groups with some other agenda.
RANGE: Why do you think such a meeting hasnt taken place up to
Wallop: Well, because those of us who are suffering the effects of this
work for our living. You know, its one thing to sit in New York
or Washington, or some other place, and have the Rockefellers
and the Fords and others send you lots of tax-deductible money,
while you dont have anything to do except to bring lawsuits that
the federal government has helped you arrange against itself so
the government can acquiesce in a quick settlement without any
need for legislation. Its one thing for them to do that, but
its another thing for those of us who must earn our living operating
on the land.
RANGE: Do you think this "war" can be won on behalf of rural people
in the West, or is it already lost?
Wallop: Well, Ill tell you this: if it isnt won, it will be a much
degraded West down the road. The more people will be forced to
survive in urban centers, and the less the land is used and managed
by people who really know and understand it?and I dont mean the
BLM or the Forest Service or the Corps of Engineers or the EPA,
because they dont know how to manage it?the more there will be
When you take families that have been on the land for two
or three or five generations and run them off because theyre
no longer economically viable, how do you get them back? How do
you re-establish economic viability in time to save the little
towns? And if there isnt a little town, how are you going to
get people to live where they cant educate their kids, and buy
groceries and shoes and all thats necessary to survive? Its
the little people who must make themselves heard. It can happen.
It happened to me in my last election when I was the first to
be elected in Wyoming who didnt carry a single metropolitan county.
RANGE: A lot of people who agree with you are hesitant today to
become involved in the political issue because they fear they
will be branded extremists of some kind.
Wallop: Well, of course, and they are obviously not extremists. But the
problem is that if theyre worried about the brand they wear,
then they will be branded anyway and not get anything done. If
they are branded in their silence, they might just as well be
branded by their presence.
RANGE: It will take leadership. Do you see that leadership emerging
Wallop: The hardest reason it doesnt clearly exist comes down to money.
The other side has done such a good job of creating a commodities
recession for miners, and oil and gas people, and sheepmen and
stockmen and outfitters and others, that those who once would
have contributed, cannot contribute. It takes money to get an
organization up and running. So what were going to need is maybe
a few people who came from this world and had their successes
in the Denvers and in the Las Vegases and other places and still
think the world where they came from is important.
RANGE: Should westerners accept some responsibility and start
trusting each other more?
Wallop: Theres no generic answer to that. Babbitt claims to be a westerner,
and I couldnt begin to start trusting him more. Some westerners
are not trustworthy. They either dont understand the West or
understand it all too well and detest its independence.
RANGE: Should we accept more responsibility?
Wallop: Sure. The West wont survive without its best people becoming
part of a movement to help it. That entails an involvement that
most of us prefer not to undertake, for in our independence exists
a tolerance for others and a desire for solitude.
It is when our views, developed in solitude, remain confined,
that the organized forces arrayed against us seem victorious.
We happily tell each other (who already know) what our problems
are, but rarely take our case to the public. Those views are our
common strength if only we would join together to express them.
* * *
Tim Findley is freelance writer living in Fallon, Nev.