Wyoming fed land transfer movement loses steam
Posted April 17
CASPER, Wyo. — The election of President Donald Trump seems to have reduced for now the need for any legislative efforts in Wyoming to wrest public lands away from the federal government, state Senate President Eli Bebout said.
Bebout, a Republican from Riverton, said he doesn't anticipate any major legislation aimed at securing state ownership next year.
The Trump administration gives lawmakers hope that the federal government will manage lands with local interests in mind, he told the Casper Star-Tribune (http://bit.ly/2omYrMT).
Early in the 2017 state legislative session, Bebout killed a bill that would have begun the process of amending the Wyoming Constitution to allow the state to accept federal lands. Sportsmen in the state had opposed the measure.
"I think where we are is there's a lot of optimism because of the new president and his policies," Bebout said. "And it gets back to management and doing a better job of having true access for multi-use and sustainable yield."
Rep. David Miller, a Riverton Republican who is one of the Legislature's most enthusiastic supporters of land transfer, said he doesn't have any plans right now for legislation.
Advocates for states taking over federal land have begrudged the amount of time it takes to permit oil and gas, timber and other projects and disagreed with federal environmental regulations, saying they killed jobs. Activities on public lands generate about $2 billion a year, but the state gets to keep only about half that, with the rest going into the U.S. Treasury.
Wyoming's current economic woes would be helped if the state could keep all that revenue, supporters said.
But sportsmen and conservationists argued the state wouldn't have money to manage an additional 25 million acres of Wyoming on top of the 3.5 million currently under state control. They said a large wildfire could wipe out the state's budget for managing the land, forcing Wyoming to sell acreage to the wealthy and well-connected.
Then access for ordinary Wyomingites could be forever blocked, they said.
The Western Values Project is an organization that advocates for balanced approach to public land usage.
Its executive director, Chris Saeger, said it's good that Wyoming seems to be moving away from land transfer. But that doesn't necessarily mean the land will remain protected and pristine since Congress and Trump have started to repeal environmental regulations enacted during President Barack Obama's term, he said.