County takes side in lands battle
Sweetwater County is siding with a growing group of concerned residents and organizations against the idea of a transfer of federal lands to the state government.
A battle over public lands has brewed since legislators introduced a bill proposing a constitutional amendment which would transfer federal lands to the state. The amendment will be debated in the upcoming legislative session in Cheyenne, where it’s expected to be one of the major issues the legislature will tackle.
The county has made a few proactive moves supporting the case for the federal government to retain control of those lands. A letter dated Dec. 9 from former Chairman Wally Johnson was sent to Rep. Jo Ann Dayton (D-Rock Springs), Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) and Rep. Tim Stubson (R-Casper) opposing the constitutional amendment. In his letter, Johnson raises issue with the wording itself, claiming the amendment asks residents if they approve the management of federal lands by the state before asking if residents support such a transfer in the first place.
“It seems to Sweetwater County, that the state should first ask its residents whether they believe that federal lands should be transferred to the state,” Johnson wrote.
Johnson further writes that the state should reject any scheme to transfer federal land to the state. Sweetwater County is contains more than 4.5 million acres of federal land, much of it administered by the Bureau of Land Management.
A second document, comparing the percent of ad valorum taxes generated from public and private lands in the county show with the exception of oil, every other mineral industry in the county generates more value from federal lands. According to the document, 58.88 percent of mineral ad valorum is generated from public lands.
“I don’t trust what would happen if those lands are transferred,” Johnson said Tuesday morning.
For Johnson, the amendment represents a scheme to ultimately sell the transferred land to make money for the state. Once sold, the prevailing philosophy of multiple land uses would change to a single-use only, likely to the detriment of public access.
While Johnson admits he doesn’t always agree with decisions made by the BLM or U.S. Forest Service, he thinks they provide multiple uses for federal lands.
While the county and others opposing the amendment prepare for the upcoming session, the commissioners are well aware of how important it is to be involved in the process.
“We have to be proactive, not reactive,” Commissioner Randy Wendling said.