A majority of Wyomingites want federal public lands, such as those pictured here in the Wyoming Range, to remain under federal management, according to a recent poll (Photo courtesy of Buzz Hettick)

Results from a recent poll reveal people don’t want their public lands sold. Most Westerners, including a majority of Wyomingites, want to maintain and protect federal land in their home states, according to Colorado College’s Conservation in the West poll, the results of which were released last week.

In Wyoming, 54 percent of respondents said they oppose giving state governments control over federal public land. Seventy-two percent oppose selling significant holdings of public lands, such as national forests, to reduce budget deficits.

The survey polled 400 registered voters in Wyoming using both land lines and cell phones. Those surveyed reflected the political demographics of the state.

The survey results didn’t surprise Dubois resident Nick Dobric, the Wyoming field representative with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and a former hunting guide. In Wyoming, more than 1,000 sportsmen have signed the Sportsmen Access Petition opposing public land sales, he said.

Public land management is far from perfect, in Dobric’s opinion, but transferring management to the states, which have different and more prohibitive recreation rules, and lack adequate management funds, is not a solution. Sportsmen depend on these lands.

It’s why Jeff Muratore lives in Wyoming. Muratore moved to Casper when he was 5 years old. Fifty-three years later it’s still home. “Absolutely it’s the outdoors and hunting on public land,” he said of what has kept him in Wyoming.

Most of the people he knows share his opinion that federal lands should not be transferred to state control. “State lands are managed to maximize profits…. Recreation is literally on the bottom of the list of important use,” he said. “That is not my idea of how public lands should be managed.”

As more people understand what selling, or even transferring ownership means, more people are opposing it, despite widespread distrust of the federal government in the state, Muratore said.

“Access to public land is a way of life in Wyoming,” he said. “Without the access to public lands, I don’t think I would live in Wyoming.”

Muratore said he believes that advocacy for federal land transfers by a select few politicians demonstrates how out of touch some officials are with their constituents. He believes such behavior is causing a rift between a traditionally conservative demographic — sportsmen — and conservative elected officials.

Jeff Muratore poses with his grandsons Shane Lovelance and Carter Muratore with a turkey he nabbed hunting in the Deer Creek Range of the Laramie Mountains.
(Photo courtesy of Jeff Muratore)

“There is a definite disconnect,” Muratore said. “They are not listening to us.”

It is a rare issue that is bringing together people from both parties, said Buzz Hettick, a forester and chairman with Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, who has lived in Laramie for about 15 years after growing up in Montana. “It doesn’t matter if they are a Republican or a Democrat, they don’t want to lose their public land,” he said.

To instill sportsmen values and traditions in the next generation there have to be places to hunt. Hettick said he wishes more people opposed federal land transfers, and said perhaps more would if they understood they won’t be able to do the things they love if state’s take over management or ownership.

“When you look at what public lands really do for the people of Wyoming and the West, it’s the huge economy based around public lands,” he said. “People live here for a reason. They put businesses here for a reason. It’s no accident I live in Wyoming. I want to live somewhere where I can throw 20 bucks of gas in my truck and go hunting or fishing, or whatever other outdoor activity I like.”

Rob Hendry, a Natrona County Commissioner and third generation Wyoming rancher, disagrees. He said he thought the number of people opposed to land transfers in the state seemed high.

He is a public land user and favors transfer of control of federal land to the states.

“State control means the management would be closer to the ground, closer to where the land is,” he said.

He said he believes state-owned lands are still public lands, so people wouldn’t lose access, but the states would have the opportunity to increase energy development. He’d like to see the state take advantage of increased coal, oil and gas extraction. He’d like recreation opportunities to remain the same, allowing for hunting, fishing, hiking and backpacking.

“People have, and would still have, the right to come out here,” he said.

As a rancher who uses federal lands for grazing, Hendry said he’s seen how bureaucracy hinders use. In a year where the grass is green and plentiful, he still has to move his animals on a prescribed date. There is no flexibility depending on conditions.

“It’s all done in Washington D.C.,” he said. “That gives a terrible amount of frustration.”

Hendry does fall in line with most other Wyomingites, according to the survey, who oppose selling public lands. Selling public land would lockout sportsmen and he doesn’t think the land would fetch enough money to make the loss of access worth it.

Speaking at a press conference on the poll, former Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, acknowledged that the attitudes reflected in the survey are sometimes overshadowed by vocal groups that he described as “far out of step with most folks living in the West.”

Most westerners are more concerned with drought, water, scarcity, dependence on foreign oil and the outdoor recreation economy, than trying to gain state control of federal lands, according to Salazar.

Many Western states attract businesses and visitors with their public land access.

The poll also showed that 72 percent of people in Wyoming favor future presidents having the ability to designate new national monuments. According to the survey, 79 percent of Wyoming residents said public issues involving public lands, water and wildlife are important factors in determining who they will vote for this year.
“These are the crown jewels that make the American West so attractive,” Salazar said.

Kelsey Dayton

Kelsey Dayton is a freelancer and the editor of Outdoors Unlimited, the magazine of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. She has worked as a reporter for the Gillette News-Record, Jackson Hole News&Guide...

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  1. Pollsters many times target an audience that will support the desired outcome. Studies show 90% of those called hang up. There are too many assumptions in this argument, know one knows what the legislation looks like. So the poll question is already flawed. I personally believe that the right rules on land use and when and how or if any lands could be sold would have Wyoming citizens lining up to vote YES.

    Ron Harvey

  2. Anyone who thinks the state of Wyoming has any claim to federal lands in the state, read article 21 section 26 of the Wyoming constitution and get back to me.

  3. There are some questions that need answered before any transfer of public lands ownership takes place. If the state owns the land, will they guarantee continued access for recreational purposes? If the state decides to sell some of the public lands will everyone get a chance to bid or just adjacent landowners? Will federal monies dry up if the state takes over ownership?

  4. I doubt the validity of this poll. I know of NO ONE who was contacted to be surveyed for it. My guess is the sample size was too small and non-representative.

  5. I moved to Wyoming in 1974 for the hunting and fishing. Federal public lands are what makes Wyoming a great place for this type of recreation. It’s true that federal land management agencies often make poor management decisions, but if one wants to look at the alternative, get out on the ground and see how state lands are managed in Wyoming, and most other states in the West. Overgrazing by livestock and lack of any significant amount of suitable wildlife habitat and hunting opportunity on most state land will be obvious to even the most casual observer.

  6. Access to public lands is being taken away by the BLM and USFS at an alarming rate. A whole national forest in California (Plumas) was closed. Trails are being closed here in the Bridger-Teton. Only the federal government has an incentive to sell the public lands, and there have been at least two bills in the US Congress to do just that (Sen. Murkowski, Rep. Poe). The US continues to borrow heavily – and we are running out of collateral. The “seize and sell” mantra is a baseless scare tactic.

    1. The seize and sell mantra is not baseless. Nevada has sold almost all the state land it was granted at statehood. Utah has sold half. Wyoming has sold about 20 percent. With the steep budget deficits Wyoming is going to face in coming years due to declining minerals revenue, there would be intense pressure to over-develop or sell federal lands if they were in state control.

      In my opinion, since you are a state legislator, you should be listening to the people of the state on this issue.

      http://www.statetrustlands.org/

      1. According to the State Lands Board, Wyoming is in net deficit of about 1200 acres since statehood. Yes, state lands were sold – and purchased and swapped. The state is required to maintain X acreage of state lands, and Director Hill, at last report, was on a path to make up that 1200 acres.

        Over here in the B-T forest, residents and visitors are threatened with the loss of 125 miles of trails. There is widespread support for giving the state a chance.

  7. It is extremely unfortunate that the GOP is not listening to poll results. They think they know what is best for you. How arrogant!!