WyoFile Energy Report

Wyoming lawmakers will discuss taking ownership of federal lands

Many decades after it began, the Sagebrush Rebellion continues in the battle for control — and even ownership — of federal lands in the West.

The rebellion advanced its front lines with the Transfer of Public Lands Act signed into law earlier this year in Utah, demanding that the federal government sign over ownership of federal lands to the state by the end of 2014.

Dustin Bleizeffer

The unlikely passage of such a law came from the froth of Utah’s extremely contentious battle over conservation and oil and gas development. And now the lead sponsor of Utah’s Transfer of Public Lands Act, Ken Ivory, has been invited to speak before Wyoming lawmakers about a possible desire among leaders here to takeover federal lands in the Cowboy State.

“I think a lot of people in Wyoming would rather have us run our lands in our state than the federal government,” said Sen. Eli Bebout (R-Riverton), co-chairman of the Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Interim Committee.

Ivory is scheduled to speak to the Minerals Committee at 11 a.m. Monday, October 15, in Casper.

Bebout told WyoFile that, so far, there’s no intention among committee members to draft a bill in Wyoming similar to Utah’s Transfer of Public Lands Act. However, given that Wyoming leaders see evolving federal regulation as an attempt to block energy development on public lands, Bebout said it’s a discussion in which the Minerals Committee should be engaged.

In a phone interview with WyoFile Ivory said, “We’d love to have Wyoming come onboard. … We have states throughout the West that have bipartisan teams to run this legislation — to do what’s already been done in the 1840s.”

Whether it’s national forests or high desert sagebrush, many leaders in Wyoming have long held that locals always know what’s best in land use management, and they say it’s the locals who have the most at stake.

But try telling that to America’s hook-and-bullet enthusiasts. More than 40 percent of the surface in Wyoming is owned by the American public — owners who live both inside and outside Wyoming’s borders. And they include sportsmen who pump a lot of hard-earn dollars into an outdoor recreation industry that supports 6.1 million direct jobs throughout the United States, according to analysis by the Outdoor Industry Association.

By comparison, the oil and gas industry supports 2.1 million direct jobs.

Outdoor Industry Association’s president and CEO Frank Hugelmeyer recently told a group of journalists in Colorado, “We don’t get the respect we deserve, because we are a fractured, splintered community.”

And some would say local governments demanding ownership of federal lands is one of those fractures. Outdoorsmen of all varieties have made alliances with the broader conservation movement understanding that without actively seeking to preserve vital habitats, and without continued efforts to maintain public lands access, they’ll have declining opportunities to enjoy their hooks and bullets.

Yet state lawmakers are feeling the budget crunch, and they’re looking to public lands to bridge shortfalls in meeting public education and other services. The general sentiment among Wyoming’s elected officials has been to insist on full-scale energy development — an assured strategy to extract big dollars from public lands. And, as Gov. Matt Mead insists, it can be done without significant sacrifice of habitats, wildlife and revenue from all outdoor recreation on public lands.

I expect Ken Ivory will have an attentive ear at the Minerals Committee hearing next week — which, by the way, is open to the public. Wyoming leaders are upset with the federal government over many public lands policy issues. And adding to the froth of that contention is the fact that Congress just snatched about $700 million in Abandoned Mine Land funds.

In fact, Wyoming’s energy revenue is more prone to federal fingers than most people might imagine. Just read WyoFile’s “Feds can restrict flow of mineral revenue to Wyoming,” by Wyoming economist Samuel Western.

— Contact Dustin Bleizeffer at 307-577-6069 or dustin@wyofile.com.

If you enjoyed this column and would like to see more quality Wyoming journalism, please consider supporting WyoFile: a non-partisan, non-profit news organization dedicated to in-depth reporting on Wyoming’s people, places and policy.

REPUBLISH THIS COLUMN: For details on how you can republish this column or other WyoFile content for free, click here.

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...

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

Want to join the discussion? Fantastic, here are the ground rules: * Provide your full name — no pseudonyms. WyoFile stands behind everything we publish and expects commenters to do the same. * No personal attacks, profanity, discriminatory language or threats. Keep it clean, civil and on topic. *WyoFile does not fact check every comment but, when noticed, submissions containing clear misinformation, demonstrably false statements of fact or links to sites trafficking in such will not be posted. *Individual commenters are limited to three comments per story, including replies.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. There’s a right-wing myth that converting federal lands to state and private ownership will somehow result in “better” protection for these lands, habitats and wildlife. Really? Where’s the evidence? Oh, yeah, there is evidence in Europe, where lands held by the aristocracy as hunting preserves are in better shape ecologically speaking. But that meant that the average citizen had zero access. The rest of the evidence is that states are easily bullied/bribed by wealthy industrialists, or just more of the pillage and waste that we’ve see so often before. “We the People” are the best stewards.