Public-land users rally in Casper on Saturday in this photograph provided by the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, one of the organizers. Hundreds attended the gathering to support federal land ownership and management that currently covers 48 percent of the state. (Wyoming Wildlife Federation)

A bill proposing an amendment to the Wyoming Constitution if federal lands are transferred to the state seeks to preserve acreage, access and multiple use, according to a draft posted online.

But the draft bill is a red herring, one critic said. “I don’t think it’s worth the paper it’s written on,” said Land Tawney, president and CEO of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, an organization with members across the West.

Whatever promises the legislation makes, even via constitutional language, could be reversed, Tawney said. Placating hunters about access diverts attention from the core issue of how the lands would be managed by the state, he said. State management would shortchange wildlife and recreation and favor development, he said.

Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, the Wyoming Wildlife Federation and other conservation organizations drew hundreds to a rally in Casper on Saturday. Wyoming Wildlife Federation president Shane Cross said federal and state constitutions essentially make state ownership without congressional approval possible only through secession 

Lawmakers have said the draft bill would allay fears and dismiss key arguments made by those opposed to state control of federal property. Legislators on the Select Federal Natural Resource Management Committee are scheduled to meet in Riverton on Wednesday to consider the draft legislation and hear public comment. The committee will also review a lengthy study it commissioned, which suggests that state management of lands in Wyoming that are now federal is not feasible.

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The bill proposes a joint resolution calling for an election to amend the Wyoming Constitution. The amendment would require all federal property granted to Wyoming after Jan. 1, 2019 “be managed for multiple use and sustained yield, including public access for hunting, fishing and other recreation, as prescribed by the legislature.”

A constitutional amendment would allow the state to exchange newly acquired Federal lands for other property but without any significant loss of acreage or value. Any exchange of newly acquired federal property “shall maintain or increase public access to those lands,” the draft bill states.

Tawney said the issue has put pressure on elected officials. “I think it’s being used to defuse some angst,” he said of the bill.

“If they did pass this, what stops the state in a year, five years a decade from now, going back and saying ‘Oh we do need to sell some of these lands,’ and changing the state constitution again, Tawney said.

If lawmakers are truly interested in hunters and access, they should start with their own property, he said. For example, the controversial proposed Bonander state land exchange near Douglas. The swap would see Wyoming trade 1,000 acres of state land for only 300 acres of private land with a corresponding loss of access to another 3,000 acres of public land, he said.

Diverse support for his cause was evident at Saturday’s rally, Tawney said. The crowd included horsemen, hunters, fishermen, runners and more.

“All came together to make their voices heard,” he said. “Anyone that uses our public lands needs to stay vigilant — these folks aren’t going away.”

The highly charged issue of state ownership or management seems fundamentally flawed because of constitutional and other legal roadblocks. A 357-page study commissioned by the Legislature — also on Wednesday’s agenda — outlined numerous problems with Wyoming potentially managing federal holdings.

The study does not consider state ownership, just management. Committee member, Sen. Eli Bebout (R, SD-26, Riverton) said last week he considers a transfer “remote.”

WyoFile related: land transfer bills dies in House

That hasn’t stopped either side from debate and action. The federal government — and the American public — owns 48 percent of Wyoming, some 30 million acres. But some residents who make their livelihoods off of the federal estate complain about regulations and restrictions curtailing activities there.

Committee chairwoman Norine Kasperik (R, HD-32, Gillette) said last week she expects considerable public interest at Wednesday’s meeting, to be held at Central Wyoming College. Sierra Club’s Wyoming chapter seeks to boost participation.

“This is an attempted land grab,” Connie Wilbert, chapter director, said in an email Monday. “A small group of legislators are attempting to wrest control of our treasured public lands.”

Angus M. Thuermer Jr.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at angus@wyofile.com or (307)...

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  1. The first thing we must do to have a rational conversation is understand the difference between public land and school trust land and the different duties of the state for each one. That trust land belongs to the school children — under our Constitution AND our statehood Act of Admission. The state and Board of Land Commissioners have a fiduciary duty in managing the land and the income from the land for schools — an undivided loyalty to the beneficiary..
    It’s not public land, folks. It’s like deeded land. You don’t have a right to it, although the Board and state land managers open up the land to all kinds of public use as long as the land’s value is protected and preserved.
    Now, the state does have some land that IS public and its use doesn’t have those trust restrictions.
    Some legislators gloss over the huge increase in our Office of State Lands we would need to manage all the federal land — legislators who are the first ones to complain about the growth in government. How would you pay for that administration? You’d could fill up the entire second floor of the Hathaway Building (once the Dept of Ed moved out) with that new office.

  2. Red herring is right. Many of the environmental groups who are opposed to the transfer have made a living by suing the BLM and USFS over the governments management of the federal lands and received tax payer dollars as a result of the lawsuits. All that goes away if the state owned the lands. For them its really not about federal ownership but loss of income, Red Herring you bet, just the Herring is on the other foot. Hypocrisy you bet these same groups who routinely sue the federal land management agencies over their management of the lands are now saying the fed’s do a wonderful job of managing the land and better than the state ever could. They speak with forked tongues.

    1. Senator Hicks, we are sick and tired of having the opposition characterized as radical environmentalists. We are not! We are your fellow citizens. There is widespread, grassroots opposition to transfer (and the proposed amendment) in Wyoming. Please visit our Facebook page entitled Wyoming Sportsmen for Federal Lands. You will learn about those who oppose your efforts and the reasons why. https://www.facebook.com/WyomingSportsmenForFederalLands/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel

  3. I’d pick a nit, Angus…

    “The federal government — and the American public — owns 48 percent of Wyoming, some 30 million acres.”

    American citizens, through the federal government, own 48% of Wyoming, … ”

    M.Krall

  4. This proposed joint resolution is nothing more than a phony solution looking for a phony problem.

  5. I just wonder…if the folks that are interested in transferring management and/or ownership of public lands managed by the federal government are truly interested in sportsmen and women, then shouldn’t they get rid of the archaic law that prohibits camping and campfires on state land?

    1. AN ACT relating to state lands; repealing prohibition against camping overnight on state lands; and providing for an effective date.
      2/9/2016 2/10/2016 2/11/2016
      Bill Number Assigned H Received for Introduction H Failed Introduction 27-32-1-0-0
      ROLL CALL
      Ayes: Representative(s) Allen, Baker, Baldwin, Barlow, Blackburn, Cannady, Clem, Edmonds, Edwards, Halverson, Harvey, Jaggi, Jennings, Kasperik, Kroeker, Krone, Larsen, Loucks, McKim, Miller, Pelkey, Petroff, Piiparinen, Stubson, Wilson, Winters, Zwonitzer, Dn.

      Nays: Representative(s) Berger, Blake, Brown, Burkhart, Byrd, Campbell, Connolly, Dayton, Eklund, Esquibel, K., Freeman, Gay, Greear, Harshman, Hunt, Kinner, Kirkbride, Laursen, Lindholm, Lockhart, Madden, Moniz, Nicholas, B., Northrup, Paxton, Pownall, Reeder, Schwartz, Sommers, Steinmetz, Throne, Zwonitzer, Dv.
      Excused: Representative Walters