H.R. 2316 the Self-Sufficient Community Lands Act seeks to shift management of some U.S. Forest Service lands, such as those pictured here in the foothills of the Wind River range, from the federal government to the states. (WyoFile)

By Tory Taylor

Dear Representative Cynthia Lummis,

Thank you for your form letter explaining H.R. 2316, the Self-Sufficient Community Lands Act.
I have carefully studied your explanatory letter and found no redeeming merit to H.R. 2316. I remain strongly opposed.

You state that H.R. 2316 is not a ‘land-grab’ bill, but that is exactly what it is — a land-grab and a power-grab. The bill seeks to remove control of some U.S. Forest Service lands from the owners of federal lands — the American public — and, instead, give control to carefully state-selected groups of special interests. These carefully selected special-interest groups will no doubt place economic activities on federal lands above other public land uses such as wildlife habitat protection, clean air and water, and non-motorized recreation.

RELATED: Bridger-Teton National Forest a poster child for neglect

I do not believe in living in the past, but we can learn from history to better understand the present and help map the future. Distrust and hostility toward the United States government (aka The Feds) is a part of American and Wyoming history. States’ rights versus federal rights is an issue as old as our nation. This issue was central in the drafting of our national constitution. Delegates at the 1787 Constitutional Congress struggled greatly with federal and state rights. From 1861 to 1865 our nation again struggled with the issue, this time violently, and nearly doomed our nation during the Civil War. Pushback against the federal government surfaced as far back as the 1800’s Indian Wars, the 1846 war with Mexico, and the 1847 settlement of Utah and Wyoming by Mormon pioneers.

Resentment of federal ownership of much of the West has cropped up decade after decade, often by those who stand to make a buck from federal lands. It seems we Westerners do not want federal control and regulations, but we gladly accept federal money and natural resources. In recent decades the Western states’ culture and custom of federal-government bashing has surfaced in the Sagebrush Rebellion, the People for the West, the Wise Use Movement, and other groups. Most recently we have seen federal government resentment take the form of domestic terrorism at the Malheur Federal Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz said that Texas has 2 percent of public land and that is 2 percent too much.

Recently I had had an alarming discussion with a young, card-carrying member of the Libertarian Party who told me that Libertarians and the Tea Party do not believe in public lands and that all public land should be privatized. Is this correct? During the 2016 elections, I hope voters will ask candidates exactly where they stand on federal public lands.

RELATED: County keeps public out of public land

Hostility towards “The Feds” is a fundamental political tool in Wyoming as well as other Western states. Federal government bashing is a favorite pastime and sport with some. I have at times cussed “The Feds,” appealed their management decisions, and been involved with taking them to court. At other times I have worked closely with them and have supported their management decisions for public lands. I have used existing federal processes to exert my local voice.

“The Feds” are not enemies; they are part of the Wyoming landscape and life. Federal employees are our neighbors, the folks we visit with at the post office and the grocery store, the people sitting next to us in pews, and the fans in the high school gymnasium stands cheering the boys and girls on the sports floor. “The Feds” are professionals doing their best while some Washington, D.C. lawmakers are gutting their budgets and stripping their ability to manage federal public lands.

Representative Lummis, you portray H.R. 2316 as a benign bill. I see it differently. It will add another layer of state bureaucracy to the existing federal management of public land, thereby increasing government, not shrinking it. You say that the state can manage public land better than the federal government, yet several wildlife populations declined while under state management. Some wildlife populations now have to be protected by the Federal Endangered Species Act, a federal law in the cross-hair sights of industry and their politicians.

Wyoming citizens may wish to study a recent land management experiment that took place in northern New Mexico. The 100,000 acre Baca Ranch was established in 1876 and changed hands several times. The ranch was overgrazed, improperly logged, and finally offered for sale. In 2000, the Baca Ranch was purchased by the federal government and became the Valles Caldera National Preserve. Today cattle grazing is permitted on a sustainable level, the preserve offers numerous public recreational opportunities, and the grassy preserve is elk heaven. Hunters, and future generations of hunters, now have access and fantastic elk hunting and fishing opportunities on this federal public land.

In closing, Representative Lummis, I hope those candidates who run for your office when you step down will make very clear to Wyoming voters their views on federal land management.

Those who wish to put federal lands under state control are like a dog chasing a car. What are they going to do if they catch it? Be careful of what you ask for.

Thank you for your time,

Tory Taylor, Dubois

— Dubois based outfitter Tory Taylor has explored the forests of northwest Wyoming on horseback for more than 40 years, leading wilderness pack trips into the Washakie and Fitzpatrick wilderness areas
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— Op-eds and guest columns are the signed perspective of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WyoFile’s staff, board of directors or its supporters. WyoFile welcomes guest columns and op-ed pieces from all points of view. If you’d like to write a guest column for WyoFile, please contact interim editor Matthew Copeland at matthew@wyofile.com.

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  1. Has anyone read the bill? Section 5 part e states that nothing in this section will effect recreation in community managed areas. The committee will also have a recreational representative. While the Lummis bill goes too far in my opinion, there are some merits to the mismanagement by the Feds. Does anyone realize the forest service spent 18 mil on an office for Bridger-Teton, then complained about being underfunded? Has anyone gone to the Snowies and seen that 80% of the trees are dead and the fallen ones make walking impossible for beast and man alike? Or what about all the public lands that aren’t even public because there’s no access? What about how we’re forced to allow wild horses to destroy rangeland because of a federal Bill requiring their existence? What about over objective wolf and Grizzly populations that the state cannot make revenue off? How about the flood of people each summer who create conflict in Yellowstone?

    Point is we need better government management, we should be using logging to help out with the plague of beetles, don’t believe me? Go up by Hulett where they’ve logged, far less kill. I support public lands and think they should remain that way, but no one can deny the feds do a poor job. I feel the state should have more control and discretion as they’re directly accountable to the people. While the Lummis Bill promotes this it also opens the door to special interests overruling recreation on the committee, for that reason I can’t support this bill. But to glorify federal management is to turn a blind eye to their shortcomings.

  2. Thanks Tory.

    You are spot on in your statement about this being a massive land grab. This move to shift public lands to state control would only benefit those who support such a high jack and those whating in the shadows to collect the profits of the loss of such a charised treasure ; at this point belong to all Americans.
    I for one will only support those running for office who oppose H.R. 2316, on either side of the isle.

  3. I shouldn’t be surprised by these comments left since this is a left leaning publication. But I am surprised at the level of misinformation. I am also surprised Tory that you are impressed by the job the feds have done in managing forest land when the number of roads in national forests that have to be closed due to a lack of maintenance is increasing. (that means your access is diminishing) Or the fact your wife Meredith laments the loss of pine trees in the forests to the pine bark beetle. Don’t you think if those trees were maintained in a healthier way – like logged instead of left to become wildfire fuel – that your outfitting experience would be better? What about when access to national parks were closed by the POTUS to teach us all a lesson on sequestration? Is that the free access you all are referring to? All of your comments on this are restating talking points from the interests that want to keep the state – that would be you – from benefiting from the full use of the land within their borders. Please stop believing the propaganda.

    1. Cathy you can not be so blinded by party you think H.R. 2316 would really benefit the people of Wyoming.
      H.R. 2316 is a perfect example of an elitist tactic to profit off what is not theirs.
      These lands would most certainly be sold and out of the reach of us who have enjoyed them for many years.
      We should give the future the same consideration and leave them the same lands to use as we have.

      Thanks for your input and opinion anyway.

  4. Thanks so much for your excellent letter, Tory. Our public lands are precious, they belong to all of us here in Wyoming and throughout the Unites States, and we all need to speak out and defend them against seizure by the state and the special interests favored by Congresswoman Lummis, the rest of our federal delegation, and many of our elected state representatives. I hope everyone finds out how candidates for the legislature stand on this issue and vote accordingly.

    Connie Wilbert

  5. Good response to our Tea Partier who is finally retiring this year.. There have been several bills in this and other states put forward (most of them crafted by the Koch Bros or their think tank) trying to steal OUR lands and put them in the hands of parties within the individual state governments whereupon we can be sure the next thing that will happen is drilling, mining, “harvesting” of forests and further encroachment into wildlife’s shrinking territory. Some of these folks won’t be happy until every last acre that can be swindled away from the American Public is stripped of its minerals, or paved over, or developed in some way detrimental to those who treasure these lands and understand how important it is to keep them out of the hands of these greedy individuals. Do they think we residents of Wyoming and Utah and these other states are too stupid to know that tourism brings millions upon millions of dollars into the states every year.? People flock to our parks, monuments, forests and streams to enjoy what some are trying so hard to take away. We must be vigilant. Write letters, Speak out. Thanks to everyone who fights against these thieves.

    Paula Lynn

  6. I agree with the comments on here thus far on this great article. However, there are many in the West, and western Wyoming in particular, who are being duped into believing that we should take back the land “for the people.” The truth is that the ALC and elected officials want to take the land from the people and give it to the real rulers of this country, Corporate America.

  7. Cynthia Lummis is not running for re-election. This is our chance to put somebody more moderate into office, someone who will represent regular citizens and not just the special interests. This misguided piece of legislation has no chance of becoming law at this point, but in an election year, things can change quickly. A President Ted Cruz for example would sign it in a heartbeat. Thank you Tory Taylor for eloquently putting voice to a view that I believe a majority of Wyomingites share. Keep our public lands public.

  8. You have to understand those elected officials are not representing the people of Wyoming, rather special interest groups who will take the Federal land and use it for their purposes without regulation. Leaving us outside the fences with “No Trespassing” attached.

  9. Beautifully said, Tory. I hope your wise words will be heard widely, not just in Wyoming. Thank you for this and for all the years you have shared your knowledge and love of OUR great, wild lands.

  10. Thank you for pointing out the merits of the Federabl Government’s scientific land management mission. We’re all so fortunate to be able to enjoy the fruits of our predecessors who fought so ardently against the continued “tragedy of the commons”. They saw how bullies took over, so they asked the Fed’s to come in and “manage” the land. It’s made sense for over a hundred years. Thank you Teddy Roosevelt!

  11. Thanks for the letter, Tory. I too replied back to Congressperson Lummis’ reply to my letter about the bill she sponsors, but not in such intelligent detail. I’d like to show her a couple of state-managed sections of land adjacent to the national forest here – you can see how they are likely to be cared for by such examples, which are riddled with tracks and erosion gullies from OHVs, noxious weeds, and beat-out riparian areas.

    1. Next time you might also mention the wildlife unfriendly fences found on almost all state lands!

  12. Bravo, Tory! Also behind all this is the American Lands Council. Their sole purpose it to assist legislators in crafting bills to wrest control of federal lands away from “the Feds” and bring it under state control. Here in Wallowa County, OR, our County Commission is among a group of commissions from only three Oregon counties who paid $1000 membership fees each to the ALC. Taxpayer dollars are being spent without the knowledge of most of the taxpayers — or worse yet, with their tacit approval — to “catch that car.” Oregon can’t keep up with what it already holds, but these people are convinced Oregon would do a better job with all those acres owned by “the Feds.” What no one seems to understand is that “the Feds” is US — we, all of us citizens, own these lands, and they are held in trust for ourselves and our posterity. Does anyone seriously believe that impoverished states, unable to maintain these lands, will not sell them off to the highest bidder for resource extractive operations, private hunting preserves, etc. etc. ? When that happens — as it will, if ALC and Lummis and other land-grab legislators prevail — expect to see locked gates and “no trespassing” signs on areas that have been available to all of us for generations.

    Thanks for a great read, Tory. We hope it helps in our beloved Wyoming. Jan & Dan

  13. Thanks for your letter, Mr. Taylor. Too many of us reflexively lash out at the federal government without thinking through what is in our best interests as Wyoming citizens. Hopefully, some of what you say actually sticks in our collective mind.

  14. We have recently seen the Wyoming legislature make photography on open lands illegal, lest someone record the damage caused by cattle to stream banks. Then, powerful ag interests in the state strongarmed the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality to downgrade 87,000 miles of Wyoming streams so as to allow 5 times as much E. Coli bacteria in them. Is there some reason to believe the public would benefit from having the state take over lands now being administered by the federal government?

  15. Tory, you are right on! I hope all Wyoming citizens realize how destructive our so called “representatives” have been. The entire Wyoming delegation supports this bill. They do not represent the beliefs of the vast majority of Wyoming citizens. Each of them should be, as soon as possible, voted out of office and replaced by true representatives that vote for the issues Wyoming citizens know to be important. If the Republican party continues to support the cause of stealing our public lands, I predict a huge backlash, ultimately causing the party’s demise. Is this what the Republican Party really wants?

  16. Tory, thanks for writing this. I, too, got a form-letter response from Lummus, full of soothing lies and gobbledegook. Got a similar one from WY rep. lloyd Larsen, which I responded to by telling him I was not an idiot and didn’t appreciate being lied to and knew exactly what he was up to. Gosh, wonder why I never got a response? These people are dumber than soup AND dangerous, a bad combo.

  17. I completely agree! Our elected officials are hoping the public will buy the snake oil they are selling on the transfer issue. The truth is: if the state gets control, there will be MANY acres that won’t be profitable due to the high cost of management. When our elected officials discover this they will be forced to sell most of that land. That will destroy what is special about the west. Let’s keep federal lands in federal hands! Earl DeGroot