by Maury Jones
as published by Jackson Hole News & Guide
My previous column gave examples of federal mismanagement fueling the Sagebrush Rebellion. Today I will examine objections to transferring public lands to Wyoming and the legalities of so doing. The proposed transfer will only apply to national forests and BLM land, not national parks or monuments. Objections, such as the following, should be leveled at federal agencies.
Objection #1: Wyoming will sell public land to the highest bidder. The bill to transfer public land to Wyoming includes the language “No net loss of public lands.” The feds are now selling public land. In April the Bureau of Land Managment auctioned 846 acres of public land for $93 million. Where is your outrage? In a financial crisis our federal government could be coerced into trading — selling — our public land to countries like China to satisfy trillions in debt. That alone is a good argument for transferring ownership to Wyoming.
Objection #2: Wyoming will sell mineral rights. The BLM is selling the mineral rights to 88,960 acres in Wyoming for gas and oil development.
Objection #3: Wyoming will sell logging rights. The result of timber sales will be a much healthier forest resistant to wild fires. Federal logging is now only 20 percent of what it once was, allowing a buildup of dead timber that is a severe fire hazard. I predict massive forest fires in Wyoming this summer, in large part caused by federal “hands-off-let-nature-take-its-course” mismanagement of our forests. I hope I’m wrong.
Objection #4: Wyoming will restrict access. In October 2013 the federal government closed our national parks for political reasons, causing financial loss to our local economy and disappointment to vacationers. Local land managers won’t be so heavy-handed.
Objection #5: Wyoming will increase fees to access public lands. In 2015 the National Park Service doubled the fees for entrance to Grand Teton and Yellowstone. Did you complain?
Objection #6: Wyoming cannot afford to manage public lands. Research by the Property and Environment Research Center shows that federal land management agencies lose money on every acre they manage. The report says states will produce a net gain per acre. How is that possible? One simple example is that the U.S. Forest Service has almost ceased timber sales which generate about $300 per acre in revenue. Wyoming will sell some timber as a properly managed renewable resource.
Objection #7: Wyoming will pick lands winners and losers. The feds already do this by abandoning multiple- use management. Federal regulations have put some loggers, ranchers and outfitters out of business, all of whom used renewable resources. According to the Federal Lands Subcommittee in the U.S. House: “After 40 years of these laws imposed with the specific promise to improve the environmental health of our forests, I believe we are entitled to ask, ‘How is the environmental health of our forests doing?’ The answer is damning. These laws and the ideologues who have administered them have not only destroyed local mountain economies that once thrived on the commercial activity of harvesting excess timber, they have devastated the forest environment.”
Objection #8. But Wyoming can’t take public land because it belongs to the citizens of the United States. When Wyoming was declared a state by Congress on July 10, 1890, the exact wording was “…the state of Wyoming is hereby declared to be a state of the United States of America, and is hereby admitted into the Union on an equal footing with the original states in all respects whatever.” The Supreme Court ruled “There can be no distinction between those states which acquired their independence by force of arms and those which acquired it by the peaceful consent of older states. The Constitution says the latter must be admitted into the union on an equal footing with the rest.” (Pollard’s v. Hagan) Wyoming’s Constitution says of public land “…until the title thereto shall have been extinguished by the United States …” The federal government is not empowered by the Constitution to own land within a state except for “…Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings.”
But the federal government kept 42 percent of Wyoming land. The feds, not Wyoming, did the “land grab.” It is now 126 years later and we are still not on equal footing with 38 other states which own their public land.
By law public forests and rangeland must be transferred to Wyoming. Hawaii sued and won, getting all public land transferred. Wyoming can do the same. Utah’s transfer bill was challenged in court by two University of Utah law professors. They lost.
All of us want undeveloped forests and rangelands with recreational opportunities. We can do this while using renewable resources in a responsible manner. Wyoming can manage public land better than a monolithic government in Washington, DC.
Contact Maury Jones via [email protected] Columns represent the views of the author.