August 25, 2016

Wyoming Public Lands: For Sale and for the Few?

New Report Issued by the Wyoming Outdoor Council Details State Legislature’s Public Land Grab Efforts

LANDER — Some Wyoming state legislators are pursuing a long-term plan of seizing public lands within Wyoming with the clear intent of allowing some of these lands to be sold to private interests.

In a report released on Thursday, the Wyoming Outdoor Council details the public legislative record— which not only illustrates an intent to sell public lands, but also to favor special interests over the public in decisions about our shared public lands.

“Seven of these land-grab bills have been introduced in the last four sessions alone,” said Steff Kessler of the Wyoming Outdoor Council. “Many of these bills include language about sale of public lands, once acquired by the state. The record is clear: some lawmakers want to see our national forests and other public lands privatized.”

Changing politics in the United States Congress has brought about a new reality, Kessler said, which makes these state-level legislative efforts more dangerous than they were in the past.

“If state legislators can demonstrate what appears to be local support for the takeover of public lands, there is a real chance that this U.S. Congress will move to allow these lands to be handed over to the state,” Kessler said. “And here’s why that’s dangerous: Once our public lands are seized and auctioned off, public access disappears—there goes our longstanding freedom to hunt, fish, camp, ski, snowmobile, you name it.”

The white paper, titled “Our Public Lands—For Sale and For the Few? A Recent History of the Wyoming State Legislature’s Land Grab Efforts” outlines the incremental approach state lawmakers are taking to “chip away, year by year and bill by bill, at opposition, while also moving Wyoming closer to the goal of state seizure and sale of public lands.”

Neil Short is an attorney from Casper and an avid outdoorsman who has followed the legislative history of this effort and strongly opposes the premise behind it. “The freedom to enter upon public lands to hunt, to fish, to ride horses or ATVs, to snowmobile, to hike, climb, and run– is at the very heart of our Wyoming way of life,” he stated. “Transfer of public lands to the states would be just a quick stop on the way to privatization.”

Short also reminded residents that once lands are transferred, the locals lose out. “The highest bidders would be absentee billionaires and even foreign corporations.  Once our lands are transferred, our Wyoming way of life is gone forever.”

Nyssa Whitford, a Lander business owner, highlighted the potential impacts to recreational businesses.

“Our business, The Bike Mill, depends on public lands. All the riding areas around Lander are on public land and trails. People come into our shop for bikes, apparel, mechanical service, and other merchandise. If our public lands are taken away, where will our customers ride? How will our business stay open?”

Whitford pointed out the additional economic benefits of public lands. “I would not live in Lander if there was no access to recreation on public lands. I suspect many other people feel the same way. Taking away our public lands would be detrimental to our local economy. It would be harder to attract quality applicants and people would move elsewhere to get the quality of life they crave.”

Darren Wells, a professor of outdoor education in Fremont County, noted that “Students come to Wyoming from all over the US to study outdoor education on our public lands. Without access to these areas, we would be confined to the classroom. These public recreational areas are fantastic and access is appropriately managed for commercial outfitters and educational organizations. Shifting land management to the state would be disastrous for outdoor education and recreation. US history shows us that the end result would be privatization of our wildlife habitat, hunting areas, fishing holes, and hiking and biking trails.”

John Parr, a retired veteran and lifelong hunter and angler from Cheyenne reflected on what could happen to Wyoming. “When I was in the service and stationed in Beaumont Texas, I learned that there was no public hunting there. All the land was privately owned. I don’t want Wyoming to turn into a Texas, where you have to pay to hunt. That’s what we’d get if the state takes over our public lands.”

Allison Baas, a Green River mother of two cited the importance of this issue to her family. “When my husband and I moved to Wyoming to raise our family, our largest motivating factor was the access to our public lands.  Wyoming offered the access for my family to learn hunting and angler ethics as well as preservation of our habitat.  As we backpack, hunt and fish across our great state my girls learn the importance of the ecosystems and how related we are to the planet.”

Terry Jones, a Wheatland farmer and avid sportsman, agreed. “In Wyoming, our outdoor traditions make us who we are. I think we all want our children and grandchildren to have this access. An attack on our public lands is an attack on our way of life here.“

The Wyoming Outdoor Council report can be found on their website.



Program Director