Northern Wyoming Daily News - Serving the Big Horn Basin for over 100 years

By Tracie Mitchell
Staff Writer 

Who should manage public lands?


October 6, 2017

WORLAND – The Council for the Bighorn Range held a public workshop Wednesday evening in the Worland Community Center Complex to educate interested persons on the dangers of the state taking control of managing public lands.

“There are a variety of bills out there now to change how our public lands are managed and shifting the control from our local land managers to state control. One of the biggest things that you see in almost every one of these bills is to exempt or exclude the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 from public land management and when they do that they are basically taking the public out of public lands,” Council for the Bighorn Range Director Rob Davidson said. “The next element is to refuse to grant public stakeholders status in planning or decisions. What that means is you the hunter, the angler, the photographer, the bird watcher, whatever doesn’t have the same standing at the table that the cow guy does, or the industry guy does, or the miner has,” he added.

The Council for the Bighorn Range (CBR) works to educate and provide information for the protection and conservation of the public lands in the Big Horn Mountains region. CBR is a grass-roots non-profit 501(c)(3)-eligible conservation organization with membership drawn from the communities within the Big Horn Mountains region and includes citizens who have an active interest in the region, its environment and its conservation.

According to a pamphlet handed out at the beginning of the meeting the Wilderness Society stated on their website: “Federal Land Freedom Act,” recently discussed in the House Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee, would give states control of leasing, permitting and regulation for oil and gas development on many national public lands. At the same time, it would lock the public out of decisions made about how these places are managed, blocking protections provided by the National Environmental Policy Act and other bedrock laws. If enacted, this would help clear the way for fossil fuel interests to exploit what are supposed to be places conserved for and shared by all Americans.

Davidson explained to workshop attendees that the transfer of public land management to the state has been attempted before when proponents tried to amend the Wyoming Constitution in 2015 and the amendment was not received well by Wyoming residents.

“State trust lands are managed just primarily for the profit for the state and the people, for the schools and they are managed specifically for revenue. Public lands are managed under a multiple-use concept and for a variety of users and the state really doesn’t have that in their constitution. So they were proposing this, they got enormous back lash from sportsmen, environmentalists, conservationists, just a billion big spectrum of people and it got a lot of people talking together that hadn’t talked together in a long time. Everybody from the Elk Foundation to Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Powder River Basin Resource Council, my group [Council for the Bighorn Range], Wyoming Outdoor Council; all of us started talking with each other and really threw a hissy fit and scared these folks right back out of it, it never came to the floor. It is people like us that did that but there was also a backlash from proponents saying that the public really didn’t know, they really didn’t know the full implication. We heard this and everything from Senator [Mike] Enzi to the Senate President Eli Bebout to Dave Miller who is a senator from down there in Baggs, saying that sportsmen’s groups, environmental groups and whatever were putting out a lot of bad information on this,” Davidson explained.

Davidson went on to explain that while the desire to get public lands into the states hands went nowhere at the time, the ghost of amendments past has reared its ugly head again. “The Agriculture, State and Public Lands & Water Resources Interim Committee, it’s got some members from the senate and the house and one of their priorities was to come up with some sort of state led collaborative on federal lands. They were going to look at other collaborative members and look at the Wyoming County Commissioners Association and try to set up a big super committee collaborative, primarily consisting of legislators, some county commissioners, maybe one sportsmen’s group, a lot of ag folks, timber folks that were supposed to kind of put their hands around how the state can manage or direct public lands. They brought it up in Dubois about three weeks ago, it was introduced by Dave Miller and it was written up by the Legislative Service Office, it was called LSO66 and it actually went nowhere. There was a lot of kick back even from the Stockgrowers Association because they said we already, we are at our end of resources, we’ve got people all over the state on these other collaboratives, the oil industry people kind of said the same thing,” he said.

The Agriculture, State and Public Lands & Water Resources Interim Committee is meeting in Douglas on Oct. 18 and Davidson believes that a new proposal will be introduced. “Senator Miller and the LSO is … going to introduce a new proposal, very similar to the other one; they are going to clean it up a little bit. So we are really going to be keeping an eye on it. We don’t know what it’s going to look like; they are really kind of keeping it really tight because they don’t want a big public outcry like they had the last time around. Maybe they are going to run a test dog on this and then see what happens in 2018 during the regular session. They are going to test public reaction to it,” Davidson stated.

According to the Wilderness Society website, “Currently, the Bureau of Land Management oversees energy production on national public lands. Part of the mandate for federal agencies is to preserve opportunities for ‘multiple uses’ of public lands, including outdoor recreation and habitat conservation. The bill would undermine that role, privileging energy production above other uses while leaving it in the hands of states, which are not as well-equipped as the federal government to regulate it effectively or guard against environmental disaster.

“History has demonstrated that when states control public lands, they tend do so with the single-minded aim of maximizing revenue. A 2016 Wilderness Society report showed that Idaho has sold off about 1.7 million acres of state-controlled land for development; in many cases, those sales cut off cherished outdoor recreation spots. Earlier this year, another report found that since statehood, Utah has liquidated more than 54 percent of the land originally granted to it, including major archaeological sites and wildlife habitat.” 

Davidson also explained that even if the state took over management of public lands a portion of any money created by the lands would be required to be sent to the federal government. So by taking over the management the state would pay for the management itself and also pay the government for the privilege.

Davidson recommends residents talking with their local representatives and commissioners about this subject and letting them know how important public lands are and why.

One proposal by the Council for the Bighorn Range for combating the transfer of management of public lands from federal to state control will be featured in Saturday’s paper.


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