Federal Lands, State Burden: Bill Seeks Wyoming Land Swap

Federal Lands, State Burden: Bill Seeks Wyoming Land Swap

Written by on February 26, 2021

46% of Wyoming’s land is owned by the federal government, and four Wyoming legislators want it all to be reallocated to the state – at any cost.

House Bill 141 is currently filed with the Wyoming House of Representatives. It’s been sponsored by four Republicans: Robert Wharff of Evanston, Mark Baker of Green River, John Eklund of Cheyenne, and Dan Laursen of Powell.

The bill’s goal is simple: transfer the ownership of Wyoming’s public lands from the federal government to the State of Wyoming.

The bill excludes all the land under the management of the National Park Service, military bases, and Indian reservations. Other areas, like Shoshone National Forest, would become state property.

According to the Congressional Research Service, millions of acres in Wyoming are owned by several different federal agencies.

  • 17,493,875 acres by the Bureau of Land Management
  • 9,215,971 acres by the U.S. Forest Service
  • 70,930 acres by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • 2,345,619 acres by the National Park Service
  • 11,327 acres by the U.S. Department of Defense

The bill justifies the transfer by suggesting Wyoming is being denied “equal footing” as a Western state and is better equipped to handle environmental issues present in these territories.

“The legislature finds that federal funding and the resulting capacity for responsible management of federal public lands are in serious jeopardy while critical threats such as beetle kills, invasive species, watershed degradation, access restrictions, and catastrophic wildfires continue to escalate.

The legislature further finds that the enabling act creating the state of Wyoming includes specific provisions for the disposal of public lands and guarantees admittance into the union on equal footing with all other states. Wyoming, like other western states, has not received the full benefit of the provisions of the enabling act, related to the disposal of lands from the federal government.”

The bill demands the transfer begin and be fully completed by 2023.

The first step would be to form a joint select committee on public lands to explore the possibility. Included in the bill is a request for $25,000 to form this committee.

And the chance of such a bill advancing? Low.

Wyoming does not have the resources to maintain such vast acreage – something the bill covers. Another portion within the bill details how proceeds for land sales should be distributed once it’s sold off.

The bill has already inspired anger. The Wyoming Sportsmen on Federal Lands posted about the bill, saying:

“We are so, so, so sick of these attacks on our federal lands! Even if passed, this bill will likely do nothing but waste the legislature’s time and money. The federal government will almost certainly ignore it.

The futility of the bill notwithstanding, we feel compelled to resist it. For many of us, this bill is a direct attack on our way of life. We live in Wyoming because of the abundance of federal land.”

The Wyoming Wildlife Federation has set up a form for concerned Wyomingites to submit letters to their local representatives urging them to vote against the bill.

The Federation points out that $75,000 was spent in 2016 to explore the possibility of a federal lands transfer. It ultimately ruled that managing the lands would cost far more than added value, which would force their sale to private interests.

Meanwhile, public land access is a top priority in Wyoming. Reports suggest that oil and gas leases on public lands already restrict the public’s access to lands for hunting and other outdoor recreation.

House 141 is only one of the dozens of bills to be considered by the Wyoming Legislature when they resume their 2021 session.

The general session will resume on Monday, March 1.

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