EMBARGOED UNTIL 12:00 P.M. EST                                ENR
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 8, 1995                           (202) 616-2771
                                               TDD (202) 514-1888

     WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In an effort to make clear that federal
lands belong to all the people, the Justice Department today
filed suit to end Nye County, Nevada's attempt to encroach on
federal ownership and control of United States lands there. 
Dozens of counties, mostly in the West, have asserted ownership
rights in federal land over the past several years as part of the
so-called "County Supremacy Movement" (sometimes called the
"States' Right Movement" or "Sagebrush Rebellion II").

     Federal officials also said the action would protect federal
employees from local prosecution for carrying out their duties
and help defuse growing tensions and an atmosphere of
intimidation against federal employees.

     A 1993 Nye County resolution claims that the state of
Nevada, not the United States, owns national forests and other
federal lands, and that Nye County therefore has the authority to
manage these lands.  A separate 1993 resolution claimed ownership
of virtually every road on federal lands within the county

     Relying upon these faulty claims, the County has bulldozed
National Forest lands, opened National Forest roads closed by the
Forest Service, damaged natural and archaeological resources, and
threatened federal employees with criminal prosecution and other
legal action for implementing federal laws.

     "Today's action is firm but restrained," said Lois Schiffer,
Assistant Attorney General for Environment and Natural Resources. 
"It should send a message, loud and clear, that the United States
does indeed own and manage federal lands.  We expect the court to
quickly affirm that the federal government has sovereignty over
federal lands and that federal employees must be allowed to do
their jobs without interference."
     Over the past four years, a growing number of counties,
mostly from Western states, have sought to limit federal control
of federal lands and to exercise local authority over them. 
Following Catron County, New Mexico's lead in 1991, about 70
counties have enacted or are considering enacting measures
purporting to give them ownership of or management rights over
federal land.  An atmosphere of intimidation against federal
employees has also been growing over the last four years. 

     The federal complaint filed today argues that the county has
no plausible legal theory to support its claim of state
ownership.     The suit seeks to strike down Nye County's
resolutions as a violation of the Constitution's Property and
Supremacy clauses, and to reaffirm the right of the United States
to own and manage its lands.  The suit also seeks a permanent
injunction preventing Nye County or any of its officials from
seeking to implement the illegal resolutions. 

      "The Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service have
been working diligently to ensure that localities are properly
involved in land management decisions, and we hope this process
will improve once the courts have cleared up any confusion over
the legal issues involved," added Schiffer.

     Since passing the resolutions, Nye County initiated a series
of well-publicized challenges to federal authority over federal
lands.  Last summer, the County passed a measure purporting to
authorize the opening of a closed road within the federal Toiyabe
National Forest, and a Commissioner later filed a criminal
complaint against a federal official who attempted to stop the
county from enforcing its enactment.

     Last October, the County voted to "authorize" the opening of
two more closed Forest Service roads by bulldozer.  Nye County
has frequently threatened to file actions against federal
employees who the county alleges are acting outside of their
jurisdiction when they carry out their Congressionally-mandated
management responsibilities.

     Kathryn Landreth, United States Attorney for the District of
Nevada, said, "The county threw down the gauntlet when it
authorized bulldozing on the forest and threatened Forest Service
employees with criminal charges.  We cannot let county officials
use their offices to violate the law and mislead their
constituents regarding federal law.  The actions of county
officials could serve to incite further inappropriate behavior."

     The county claims that retention of public lands in federal
control violates a legal principle known as "the Equal Footing
Doctrine," which provides that all states admitted to the Union
since the adoption of the Constitution have the same rights as
the original thirteen states.
     The federal complaint asserts that the Doctrine does not
require land ownership equality among the states, nor does it
curtail the federal government's power under the Constitution's
Property Clause.  Instead, it simply requires that all states be
given equal political rights and sovereignty.