The Senate Appropriations Committee (SAC) approved $100,000 on Tuesday for a controversial public lands study the vast majority of Wyoming sportsmen say they don’t want.
Senate File 56 will now go to the full Senate for debate on first reading. If it is approved three times, the measure will move to the House.
The focus of the bill was originally a study aimed at finding out what impact acquiring federal public lands would have on the state. The sponsors of the bill clarified their intent last week by amending it to say SF 56 would only apply to the state managing certain U.S. Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service lands, not owning them.
With that change, the Senate Agriculture Committee unanimously approved the bill. However, at the Appropriations Committee hearing, Sen. Jim Anderson (R-Converse/Platte), when asked about the wording change from “transfer” to “manage” and how the state intended to manage lands they did not own, stated that “ownership is a type of management that the study will investigate.”
The Appropriations Committee voted on Tuesday 3-1 in favor of the $100,000 appropriation for the study, with Sen. John Hastert (D-Green River) the only member to vote against it.
All of the state’s sportsmen and conservation organizations oppose the bill. Conversely, Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, the Utah-based group that promotes private management and commercialization of wildlife, supports the bill, according to Bob Wharff, SFW’s representative for Wyoming.
Catherine Thagard, director of the Wyoming Sportsmen’s Alliance, said the diverse, nine-group coalition that represents 50,000 Wyoming sportsmen is unanimously opposed to the bill.
“Hunters and anglers, particularly in Wyoming, value our public lands and our access to them. We realize the management of federal lands is not perfect, but we feel transferring management to the state is not the best thing to do at this time,” she said. “State lands are much more regressive regarding the ability [of the public] to hunt and fish and access than federal lands.
“Nobody is asking for this [study] to be done,” she stressed.
Sen. Drew Perkins (R-Casper) asked Bridget Hill, director of the State Lands and Investments Office, if the federal government has expressed any interest in state governments managing these public lands.
“Not that I’m aware of,” she replied.
Neil Thagard of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP) said his group also opposes the bill.
“We’re concerned that, if over time, it’s decided that land [ownership] should be transferred, what happens to our hunting and fishing opportunities in the state?” he asked.
The TRCP spokesman said camping is not allowed on state trust lands. “For those of us who like to travel into the backcountry during hunting season, not being able to camp would be a real restrictive measure,” he said.
SAC member Sen. Bruce Burns (R-Sheridan) asked a member of the sponsoring committee, Sen. James Anderson (R-Glenrock), why was the transfer of ownership in federal lands to the state changed last week to make it only apply to management.
“If this is not a 180, it’s at least a 90-degree turn for this committee,” Burns stated.
Anderson said the Agriculture Committee’s amendment to make the study exclusively about management of federal lands represents a compromise that should move the bill forward.
“Rather than have this kind of iron-fisted, militant approach to do these things, this is opening the door to start the conversation,” he said.
Catherine Thagard said the SAC’s decision to approve the $100,000 appropriation means her coalition and other opponents will work harder to educate state legislators about their concerns with the bill.