WyoFile Energy Report

Utah lawmaker; Wyoming in good position to take ownership of federal lands

Back when “men were men and states were states,” midwestern officials demanded that the federal government transfer ownership of land to the states, said Utah lawmaker Ken Ivory. The laws needed to transfer federal lands to states have been in place for some time — most of them more than 100 years ago — and Wyoming is well-positioned to join a growing coalition in the West determined to make an historic land grab, according to Ivory.

Dustin Bleizeffer

“We’re going to draw significantly from our sister state of Wyoming in this great (effort),” Ivory said during his 1-plus hours of testimony before Wyoming’s Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Interim Committee on Monday.

Ivory is the lead proponent behind Utah’s Transfer of Public Lands Act, which was signed into law earlier this year. The state law demands that the federal government sign over ownership of federal lands to Utah by the end of 2014. Oh, national parks and monuments can remain with the federal government, said Ivory. Except for Escalante, he said. That’s an area that Ivory and his backers want to reconsider.

Something tells me the Interior Department — under any administration — isn’t simply going to hand over ownership of federal lands in accordance with Utah’s law. For background on the legislation, read this September article in the Deseret News, and Ivory’s own American Lands Council.

Worried about public access, hunting, fishing, climbing and myriad activities the world has come to love on federal lands in the West? Well don’t, because under Utah’s model, multiple use will remain the priority, according to Ivory. Land use decisions would reside with a state-level Public Lands Commission, which would draw its members from the county government level, said Ivory.

In Wyoming, think of county commissioners in, say, Campbell County and Fremont County. Think energy development would play prominently in multiple use land decisions? Local politics would determine access to some of the greatest, wild places in the American West for all Americans, as well as our international friends who bring much-needed tourism dollars. Ivory, and many others, insist that locals have the best interest of the land at heart. And they’re  better at taking care of the land. Ivory showed Wyoming lawmakers a map of recent wildfires, and said the worst were all on federal lands. Voila! All the proof you need.

As I reported in the WyoFile Energy Report last week, Minerals committee co-chairman Eli Bebout (R-Riverton) said there was no plan for the committee to support federal land grab bill in the upcoming 2013 session. Both Bebout and co-chairman Rep. Tom Lockhart (R-Casper) confirmed on Monday that the committee will not take up a bill to transfer federal lands. However, Bebout said he’s gotten word of at least one Wyoming lawmaker who may seek to introduce such a bill outside the committee forum.

No doubt, there is enthusiasm among some Wyoming lawmakers to wrest control, and ownership, from the federal government.

“We’ve already said, ‘let’s go do it,’” said outgoing Sen. Kit Jennings (R-Casper), member of the Minerals Committee. “I love listening to you,” Jennings told Ivory, “I mean, you’re dead on with history and it’s great.”

— Dustin Bleizeffer is WyoFile editor-in-chief. Reach him at 307-577-6069 or dustin@wyofile.com. Follow Dustin on Twitter @DBleizeffer.

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Dustin Bleizeffer is a Report for America Corps member covering energy and climate at WyoFile. He has worked as a coal miner, an oilfield mechanic, and for 25 years as a statewide reporter and editor primarily...

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  1. This reads like news from another planet.

    Utah’s quixotic demand for federal lands is just the latest episode of politicians pandering to fed-hating locals while they accomplish absolutely nothing. Between “outgoing” UT representative Chris Buttars’ now infamous proposal to eliminate the 12th grade to fund a fight against “Obamacare” and the proposal to dig out the coal buried 5,000 feet underneath Escalante National Monument, Utah’s state politics have become tiresome and predictable.

    Out of optimism, I have to believe that there is zero chance of any of this bloviating from Utah becoming anything other than fodder for political commentators.

  2. PERC — the Property and Environment Research Center — is a hard-right think-tank up in Montana that concocts most of the nonsense about how private or state ownership of federal lands is soooooooo much better. You can expect that PERC minions (great word, minion…but lacks the flavor of lackey) will soon weigh in with an op/ed in state papers and maybe even be invited to testify before a distinguished legislative committee. PERC’s great goal is to move federal lands into state hands, because state agencies are so much more susceptible to pressure from corporations to put extraction of resources before any other set of values.

  3. Why are corporatist Republicans so bad on history? And policy?
    Because everything we learned when there were no public lands regulations prove that vast swaths of forest were clear cut, vast tracts of prairie were over-grazed, while mines and oil field developers devastated land, polluting land, water and air.
    It was a Gawd-awful mess that devastated fisheries and wildlife for generations.

  4. This is rich. “Outgoing” Sen. Kit Jennings. We all know WHY he is outgoing, and we all know his opinion is worth about as much as his bankrupt business.
    Your “Voila! All the proof you need,” paragraph says it all. Great commentary.