One major topic of conversation on the campaign trail relates to management of our federal lands. That is understandable, since the federal government owns right at 30,000,000 acres – or 48.2% of our surface estate – with the BLM and USFS controlling most of those lands. The decisions made by these agencies have an outsized impact on Wyoming.
The management, development, protection, and use of our federal lands are critically important issues in Wyoming, and our State and citizens should be part of the inner circle when decisions are made. That, however, is not typically the case, with the USFS and BLM taking the position that the opinions of folks in New York City, Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Vermont (just to name a few), are entitled to the same weight and consideration as those of the neighboring landowner who must suffer the consequences of the decisions made. Under this approach, the prairie-dog loving Boulderite is empowered to demand that the National Grasslands be turned into a desert of prairie dog holes as far as the eye can see, with the guy next door losing his ranch when the spread of this vermin becomes too much to control.
I think that we should have some protection against D.C.’s bad policy decisions, and that it is time to take a different approach. Fighting on the fringes of this discussion, however, is not only counter-productive, but will ensure that the status quo prevails, a status quo that is no longer tolerable.
I have proposed that we take an innovative approach to land and resource management. I believe that it is perfectly reasonable to identify roughly 1/30th of the federal land holdings (around 1,000,000 acres) for Wyoming to manage for the next 20-25 years. We would identify and nominate parcels all over the State, with the focus being upon those lands that would provide the most benefit to us – the citizens of Wyoming – in terms of economic return, reclamation, and access, with the State keeping any revenues generated. Such lands would stay in public hands. Access to the public would be assured and programs would be implemented to improve the condition of these lands for wildlife, grazing, and other multiple uses.
I have heard some criticism of my proposal for managing federal lands, all of which are not based on the actual pilot project that I have proposed, but on rumors that distort my idea. Some people have alleged that as Governor I would “sell these lands to the highest bidder.” Others complain that I would deny access for hiking, hunting, fishing, and other outdoor recreation. Still others claim that we do not have the resources to manage these lands. Others have actually gone so far as to claim that I intend to provide state-mandated access to private lands. These claims are wrong.
First, the statutory framework will prohibit the sale of the lands. Second, public access will be a cornerstone of the program and there will most likely be INCREASED access for the general public to use these resources. From the Roadless Rule, to the Travel Plan, to Wilderness Study Areas, to road and trail closures, the BLM and USFS have spent the last several decades implementing policies that are designed to limit access to federal lands. The USFS alone has a road maintenance backlog of over $ 11 billion dollars, and spends considerable time constructing physical roadblocks on existing roads and trails. Federal ownership and management does not guarantee access; in many instances it ensures that the public will not be able to use it. Third, the federal government is over $ 21 trillion dollars in debt. The USFS and BLM do not have the resources to manage these lands now. The policies issued by fiat out of D.C. have been devastating to our resources and environment, with the pine beetle outbreak and catastrophic forest fires being just a few of the consequences of bad management. Improved management by the State will increase the amount of revenue we can generate. Finally, I have fought to protect private property rights for the last 21+ years of my legal career. I am not proposing anything that would require access to private lands; my pilot project is exclusively related to federal lands.
I believe that we should look for innovative ways to manage our resources, including our federal lands. I believe that we can develop an innovative pilot project to allow for more local input and control, improved access, and improved on-the-ground conditions. I don’t believe that we should continue to manage our resources from the approach of “we have always done it that way.” I think we can do better than that.