CHEYENNE – A legislative subcommittee got an earful from Wyomingites opposed to a constitutional amendment dealing with public lands during a meeting at the Jonah Business Center on Wednesday afternoon.
More than 100 people packed a meeting room and spilled out into the hallway – many wearing red “Keep it Public, Wyoming!” stickers.
The amendment, which was approved by the Legislature’s Select Federal Natural Resource Management Committee in Riverton in November, would dictate how the state would handle a potential transfer of federal public land – however likely or unlikely that proposition would be.
At the November meeting, the vast majority of people who spoke were against such an amendment, but the committee passed it anyway, with Rep. JoAnn Dayton, D-Rock Springs, casting the only no vote.
If the amendment is passed by the Legislature and approved by voters, any federal land given to the state beginning in 2019 would have to be managed “for multiple use and sustained yield” and would allow for the exchange of state lands as long as there is not a net loss in value.
On Wednesday, the subcommittee’s job was to review and modify the language of the amendment, and changes will need to be approved by the full committee via an e-mail vote.
Although the meeting was about the language of the amendment and not whether the amendment would proceed to the full Legislature, that didn’t stop dozens of people from telling the committee they were against it.
In fact, not one person who spoke Wednesday was in favor of the measure.
“I agree with so many people that this is just a terrible proposal,” said Dewey Gallegos, who co-owns the Pedal House, a bike shop in Laramie.
Groups representing a variety of interests, from conservation groups to sportsmen to the National Outdoor Leadership School, all were opposed to the amendment.
Individual citizens also spoke against the measure.
The crowd cheered at several points, including when Casey Quinn, representing the Powder River Basin Resource Council, said his organization is flat-out opposed to the amendment.
“We don’t support any of the language because we don’t support the amendment,” he said.
Several members of the public encouraged the subcommittee to change the amendment’s language to say it would require the state to refuse or reject a federal land transfer.
Subcommittee members, which included Dayton, Rep. Tim Stubson, R-Casper, and Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, ended up making changes to the amendment, including:
- A prohibition on the sale of acquired federal public lands except for public health or welfare purposes or to public entities;
- Language that transferred lands will be maintained for “public access”;
- Language that excludes national parks, national monuments and wilderness areas from the amendment;
- A definition of “sustained yield”;
- A requirement that land exchanges be of similar value only and not of size; and
- A requirement that land exchanges take place within the same county.
Many of those changes originated through public comment.
The amendment ties in to an ongoing effort by some to have various amounts of federally owned public land transferred to the states.
Those who favor state control believe states could manage the land better than the federal government.
But many against that effort – and the amendment – fear that a land transfer would result in the public losing access to that land through changes in management or the states simply selling or leasing the land to private interests.
There is also concern that the state cannot afford the huge cost to manage the land in the same way as the federal government.
A 2016 Colorado College poll showed the majority of Wyoming residents do not want federal land transferred to the state.
In that poll, 54 percent of state residents oppose state takeover of public lands and 72 percent of state residents are against the government selling public lands.
Gov. Matt Mead also told the Casper Star-Tribune that Wyoming lacks the legal structure and the financial resources to manage federal public land in its boundaries.
It will be up to the full Select Federal Natural Resource Management Committee to agree with the subcommittee’s changes.
Regardless, the amendment is destined for introduction in the state Senate.
The amendment will either go before the full Senate or another committee at the discretion of incoming Senate President Eli Bebout, R-Riverton.
Both the Senate and the House of Representatives will have to pass the amendment by a two-thirds majority before the amendment would appear before voters at the ballot box.
Regardless of the outcome of the state amendment, an actual transfer of federal public lands would take an act of Congress or court order to happen.