Interior Secretary James G. Watt today said the West's vaunted Sagebrush Rebellion against the federal government has been won, telling western governors that he has done his work so well as interior secretary that he is "a rebel without a cause."
"You hardly hear about" the rebellion "in Washington anymore," Watt told the Western Governors Conference.
Watt, beginning a three-week swing through the mineral-rich West, hardly heard a word about it here in the shadow of the Grand Tetons, either.
In a 3 1/2-hour session at the conference, Watt had the once-hostile governors eating out of his hand. And he held some choice morsels for them.
In rapid-fire order, he told the governors:
He and Alaska Gov. Jay Hammond have agreed to delay or postpone some offshore oil lease sales in Bristol Bay until the impact on Alaskan fisheries resources has been thoroughly studied.
He has reversed a controversial Carter administration ruling that the federal government has the right to preempt state water-rights laws to obtain water for use on federal land.
He has received 384 requests for transfers of 700,000 acres of federal land to local governments, and is acting on those requests.
It was a triumphant beginning to Watt's first major visit to his native West since becoming secretary.
About 40 anti-Watt picketers demonstrated outside the conference, but they were outnumbered by a fire engine-led caravan of Watt supporters driving pickups loaded with cords of wood to symbolize multiple use of the forest.
Watt, wearing a cowboy hat, walked the length of the truck caravan shaking hands, at one point sticking his hand into an empty truck. He turned his back when he approached the demonstrators.
But it clearly was Watt's day back home in Wyoming. Seldom was heard a discouraging word and the governors were beaming all day.
Even Democrats, such as Utah Gov. Scott M. Matheson, told Watt he was "close to driving the last nail in the coffin of the Sagebrush Rebellion." Some people credit the rebellion--raw western antagonism to federal land policies--with delivering all of the West to President Reagan in last year's election.
Matheson credited Watt with establishing "a good-neighbor" policy that rapidly dissipated much of the western political unrest. Almost half the land here is controlled by the federal government and, to these governors, the secretary of the interior is the second-most-powerful man in Washington.
"Jim Watt has jurisdiction over two-thirds of my state," said Matheson. "I have jurisdiction over one-third." Sixty-seven percent of the land in Utah is controlled by the federal government.
Still, the issues Watt has to deal with on his western tour are controversial and complex.
On Saturday he plans to visit Yellowstone National Park, where superintendent John Townsley supports him on his proposal to boost park maintenance funds but is opposed to oil and gas development just outside the park's boundaries.