As the Wyoming Legislature winds down, the budget is the main topic of discussion, but there are also some important pieces of legislation that are working their way through the process. As always, some will make it, and others will not, so keep your attention toward Cheyenne in case you are needed to make a call or send an e-mail for support or opposition for a bill. I’m wondering why the most important legislation is that dealing with the federal government, a constitutional amendment forcing congress to balance the budget, whether Wyoming will expand Medicaid and a study to have the state manage public lands.
As I usually write this column around the middle of the week for Saturday’s Roundup, I’m somewhat reluctant to write about ongoing legislation. By the time you have read the latest issue, that piece of legislation may have changed drastically, and it may have been approved or defeated.
Senate File (SF) 56, Study on Management of Public Lands, has been getting a lot of attention lately, and some of it has been negative. Recreationists and sportsmen have been the loudest. They think federal lands will either be sold off or locked up from public use. However, Wyoming has taken a different approach in that SF 56 is asking for $100,000 to be used for a study by the Office of State Lands and Investments to address the management of specified federally-administered public lands in the state of Wyoming by the state of Wyoming. The Senate bill is now in the Journal Committee.
Other western states, Utah being the first and now New Mexico, Montana and Nevada, also want the federal government to transfer the public lands to their state. Years ago, then Secretary of Interior James Watt proposed to sell off some of the West’s public lands to help pay off the national debt. This would have placed those lands in private hands, and there was uproar about that. Transferring public lands to the states has started an “us against them” debate in the West. Wyoming is on the right track.
While I don’t have a problem with the federal government transferring lands over to the states, I realize the states need to take a hard look and find the best approach on what is best for the state.
First off, there is more to public lands than recreation or hunting and fishing. Those using the availability of public lands as an excuse to oppose the bill are being pretty narrow-minded. The resources some of these lands provide are very important to our state, and the money spent on lengthy permits, whether it is minerals or grazing, is absurd. The goals and objectives on managing these lands will most likely be the same, but getting to that point, hopefully processing times for these permits will be a lot shorter.
Those who deal with the public lands – and even some who manage these public lands – are fed up with the slow or lack of response from the federal government. I’ve even been told in a meeting with a public lands manager that “no” was the only answer he would give me to a request to improve a small parcel of public lands. In the following year after the “no” employee left, it was no problem for the next person in the same office to approve.
We need to have this study. What is best for the state is best for all the people using those lands.