While the attention of many who hunt has been distracted by the shiny object of politics—gun regulations—our Fremont County Republican legislators have been working quietly to change Wyoming’s relationship with the public lands that we love. House Bill 228, “creating a task force on the transfer of federal lands” and “requiring a report from the attorney general on possible legal recourses available to compel the federal government to relinquish ownership and management of specified federal lands,” has flown through both the House and the Senate and now awaits the Governor’s signature.
If that sounds like an attack on our right to recreate on public lands then the membership of the task force prescribed in HB 228 is downright ominous—two members of the Wyoming Senate, two from the House, and then, appointed by the Governor: one county commissioner, an individual from oil and gas, one from mining, one from agriculture and, finally, one from travel and recreation. To further illuminate the true intent of the bill’s authors it specifies that the University of Wyoming’s School of Energy provide advisory support. Not the Ag School. Not the School of Environment and Natural Resources. Just Energy. This does not sound like a balanced study.
Having all of our public lands under state management is not a step forward for wildlife and recreation in Wyoming. Our state land managers are good people who do the best that they can with a limited staff and limited budgets, but as a hunter who enjoys many fall days on public lands the difference between lands managed by the BLM and our state lands is obvious to the eye. Oftentimes, a mere fence line separates over-used state land from federally managed ground with good cover and ample forage. But it gets worse.
If you “look under the hood” of the original House Bill 228 it is even more concerning. The required study would explore the creation of a commission to administer the process for “the state of Wyoming, other entity or private individuals to receive title to formerly federally owned and managed lands from the United States” and “establish procedures and requirements for subjecting formerly federally owned and managed lands to property taxation.” This is not a bill that just looks at switching the management of our public lands from the feds to the state, it is looking at taking the land that you and I hunt, fish and backpack on and turning it over to private interests.
House Bill 228 means less access and poorly managed lands. And we get all of this for the low, low price of $30,000, the cost of the “study.” And of course there is the minor problem of the Feds never having expressed any interest in turning over the land to the state. House Bill 228 is fiscal mismanagement, belligerence and bad policy all in one nice package.
Sadly, this industry land grab has its roots right here in Fremont County. Representative David Miller of Riverton, Representative Lloyd Larsen of Lander and Senator Eli Bebout of Riverton are House Bill 228 co-sponsors. Their Fremont County Republican colleagues—Senators Case and Geis, and Representatives Winters and Campbell—have joined them in voting for this wasteful, quixotic gift to the extractive industries. The only elected official from Fremont County to vote against the bill was Democratic Representative Patrick Goggles.
This second coming of the Sagebrush Rebellion is out of the gate now. If you hunt, fish, ATV or backpack on public lands, beware. Your recreation is under attack.
If you believe public lands belong in public hands, join us, “Turn Fremont Blue.”
Related Story: Casper Star-Tribune: Wyoming may look at ways to manage federal land