SHERIDAN — The Office of State Lands and Investments published a Public Land Management Study, investigating the possible success of transferring management and control of Wyoming public lands from the federal government to the state. The study found that it is unlikely the state would manage federal lands better than they’re currently being managed.
“That might be news to some legislators who have supported this ill-considered idea,” said WYHAA board member Max Ludington, in a press release last week, “but sportsmen have questioned its value since its inception.”
The study cost $75,000 of taxpayer money and had to include: identification of the public lands to be transferred; development of a proposed plan for administration, management and use of the lands; economic analysis, including costs, revenue sources and revenue amounts; and alternative solutions.
The study said the process of turning these lands over to the state would be lengthy and expensive. It stated, “Without significant changes to federal law, we would not anticipate any substantial gains in revenue production or additional sources of revenue with any transfer of management — certainly not enough to offset the enormous costs such an endeavor would likely entail.”
While not commenting on the study itself, cost was one concern for Wyoming Wilderness Association Executive Director Carolyn Schroth. She said during this long process there is a potential of Wyoming losing local federal funding. This wasn’t her only concern, though.
“The bigger issue I think for us is that it could result in increased development of wild places in Wyoming,” Schroth said. “Where, you know, not just residents but other tourists that come here don’t want to see places developed where they’ve enjoyed recreating in or hunting… It could open up the door for the state to sell off some of these lands to increase revenue.”
Wyoming Legislature candidates Hollis Hackman, Sandra Kingsley and Val Burgess — all Democrats — had similar concerns. All have spoken against the idea of transferring federal lands to the state. Republican candidates have had varying views on the issue, with some saying they support the transfer of public lands to the state but not their sale.
“The Bighorn National Forest is an $8 million a year budget,” Burgess said. “I don’t understand how the state feels that they can in fact manage $8 million of forest.”
Burgess also said that with more than 48 percent of Wyoming’s lands being public lands that people nationwide travel to, there would be a public outcry if the idea of privatized lands became more well known.
“That’s why people come to Wyoming,” Burgess said. “What we sell is our outdoors and our wildlife and all that. Hunting and fishing bring in huge dollars to the state not just in fees, and I don’t think that’s huge, but in what people pay to do that. You know some people who hunt on areas surrounded by private lands pay $10 (thousand), $20,000 to go hunt, so it’s a moneymaker.”
Though Hackman said he didn’t think it was necessary to spend $75,000 on the study, he thought the report was beneficial in that it brought to light alternative recommendations that could be advantageous. One, specifically, being land use plans.
Statewide Land Use Plans, also referred to as a Natural Resource Policy Plan, are currently available but underutilized. These plans do not direct zoning or activity on private lands. Based on data and local public input, these plans describe citizens’ and government’s preferred environmental conditions, local “customs and culture,” and economic baseline and needs. Essentially, the study says that when a local plan is in place, “the federal government must consider it when making decisions that affect the local area.”
Another alternative the study recommended and Hackman agreed was worth further consideration, was Stewardship Agreements and Contracts. Under such, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management could enter into agreements with the state to undertake projects prioritizing responsible planning and management of natural resources.
Overall, though the study confirmed problems many had already anticipated, it exposed new solutions that promote state-private working relationships while keeping citizen’s issues close at hand.
“Those things deserve more attention,” said Hackman. “So I think the study was useful in that it brought forth some of that information and that gives the Legislature something to think about investing more energy into as we go down the road.”
The issue of public lands has been contentious throughout the 2016 election season in Wyoming. In the race for the state’s lone U.S. House seat, Republican candidate Liz Cheney has said she supports the transfer of lands to the state, while her opponent Democrat Ryan Greene said he opposes the idea.