THE BUZZ 2: Land Locked

By on October 25, 2016

Local officials and candidates discuss study that says although federal lands need better management, state ownership isn’t the answer.

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JACKSON HOLE, WY – A report released last week is fueling the fight over who should manage federal lands in Wyoming.

The $75,000 study by Jackson-based Y2 Consultants says transferring management to state and local hands would be too costly. Instead the report suggests the state take a piecemeal approach to strengthening current local management mechanisms.

Marylee White is the Democratic candidate for House District 22 running against incumbent Marti Halverson. White’s objection to the transfer of public lands is one of the main reasons she threw her hat into the ring. Her opponent is in favor of the transfer. For White, the report confirmed something she’s been saying all along. “Taking over management of federal lands in Wyoming is a bad idea,” she said. “And full transfer of these lands is an even worse idea.”

White credited the report’s authors with crafting “a good alternative.”

“It recommends that there are mechanisms that allow for state and local community involvement in federal land management that we don’t take full advantage. [These mechanisms] would help us work collaboratively to solve some of these problems,” she said.

One such tool would be Natural Resource Policy Plans at both state and local levels that describe citizens’ preferred environmental conditions and baseline economic needs. The report recommended against full-scale state management of public lands, citing what it called a bureaucratic maze of overlapping, entwined, often conflicting federal mandates the state would inherit.

However, that maze didn’t put Halverson off. She interpreted the report to mean that full transfer was the best solution. “The state has more experience with conservation and forest and rangeland management than faceless unaccountable bureaucrats in Washington DC,” she told The Planet.

However, environmentalists and recreation enthusiasts see state control of public lands as a step toward selling off public lands to the highest bidder, according to Luther Propst, board chair of the Outdoor Alliance, a public lands advocacy group. “I commend Y2 Consultants telling their clients what they don’t want to hear,” Propst said.

Similarly, the Wyoming Hunters and Angler Alliance, which advocates against a public lands takeovers, welcomed the study’s results. “The study concludes state management of federal lands would be ‘unlikely to accomplish the goal of markedly better managed federal lands and management decisions,’” said Max Ludington, Alliance board member. “That might be news to some legislators who have supported this ill-considered idea, but sportsmen have questioned it since its inception.”

Y2 consultants were hired by the state through a bill passed in 2015 to pay for the study. The consultants were asked to compare the state’s management of school trust lands and see if a similar model of management could work for public lands. However, the study explains that school trust lands are by mandate managed for revenue, whereas public lands would still be privy to management mandates aimed at conservation, recreation and preservation for generations to come.

Of Wyoming’s approximately 62 million acres, more than 30 million acres, or about 48 percent, are federally owned and administered. The federal public lands included in this study total about 25 million acres.

Locally, keeping federal lands safe from private interests has earned almost unanimous support from town and county leaders. In 2015 both the town and county passed resolutions opposing state control of public lands. The only dissenting voice at the time was Mayor Sara Flitner who voted against the resolution. She told The Planet she stands by her decision.

“I was concerned that some of the language in the resolution was inflammatory and would be insulting to the State Loan and Investment Board,” Flitner said. “We had grant requests in front of SLIB, including one million dollars for Budge Slide, and because the resolution did not specifically take action, I did not want to create unnecessary conflict.”

Mayoral candidate Pete Muldoon said he would have supported the town and county resolutions. “Those are our lands,” Muldoon said. “If we don’t keep them in federal hands, the state of Wyoming will end up selling them off and the public will no longer have access. And that is unacceptable.”

Attempts to take over management of federal lands, Propst says, are part of a larger effort to chip away at federal control of public lands throughout the West. He noted that public lands have lost federal funding consistently since 1980.

“So, of course the lands aren’t being managed as well as they should be,”
Propst said. “More funding is the answer, not just giving away land to the states who will inevitably reduce access.”

Keep It Public, Wyoming will hold a rally for public lands 1 p.m. November 5 at the Izaak Walton League, 205 Fort Casper Road, Casper. PJH

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About Meg Daly

Meg Daly is a freelance writer and arts instigator. She grew up in Jackson in the 1970s and 80s, when there were fewer fences, but less culture. Follow Meg on Twitter @MegDaly1

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