January 26, 2017

Under intense public pressure from a wide range of public land supporters, Wyoming State Senate President Eli Bebout announced Friday he would kill a proposed state constitutional amendment to lay the groundwork for transferring federal public lands in Wyoming to the state. Bebout, an ardent public land transfer advocate, said he would not introduce to committee this session legislation related to the amendment or to public land transfer in general.

Hunters and anglers throughout Wyoming—along with members of the outdoor recreation community, conservationists, and citizens who value Wyoming’s public lands—celebrated a battle hard-won.

“A group of state legislators have been trying for years to give control of our public lands over to wealthy, private interests,” said Max Ludington, Wyoming Hunters and Anglers Alliance board member. “These are the same lawmakers who pushed this amendment, saying it would guarantee public access and multiple-use management on 26 million acres of what’s now federal land. But the state absolutely cannot afford to manage these lands, and it has an awful record when it comes to managing its own state lands on behalf of the public. It took Wyoming sportsmen and citizens no time at all to recognize that this amendment would ruin our access to quality public lands.”

Wyomingites came out in droves to oppose the land transfer amendment, demonstrating remarkable civic participation and broad bipartisanship. In a sparsely populated state where political demonstrations are rare, citizens repeatedly packed legislative hearings on the amendment and showed up consistently for meetings and rallies organized around the land transfer issue.

While the public land transfer was pushed by Republican legislators, opposition to the state constitutional amendment came from Wyoming Republicans, Democrats, and many others for whom the importance of public lands trumps political ideology.

“Perhaps the GOP was taken aback by sportsmen’s resistance to the amendment, since I’m guessing most Wyoming sportsmen are Republicans, like me,” said Earl DeGroot, a retired management consultant who was an active citizen opposing the amendment. “But they shouldn’t be surprised. We won’t put up with the Democrats’ stand on gun control, and we won’t tolerate the GOP taking our federal lands. Both are equally important to us.”

Members of the public eager to become involved in the fight against the land transfer amendment found leadership from sportsmen’s, conservationist, and outdoors groups working under the banner of the “Keep It Public, Wyoming” coalition. This loose contingent hosted a public lands rally in Casper in November attended by hundreds of people, alerted the public of key legislative meetings, encouraged their members and social media followers to contact their representatives, and communicated with lawmakers on potential alternatives to the amendment.

Wyoming Hungers and Anglers Alliance produced a short video about public opposition to the amendment, which went viral and was viewed more than 220,000 times. The coalition also organized voices from the business community, publishing an open letter to the Wyoming State Legislature opposing the amendment and public land transfer, signed by nearly 50 Wyoming outdoors businesses in newspapers across the state.

“Without the vast areas of BLM and other public lands available for commercial reaction operations like mine, I would not have had a successful business for more than three decades,” said Tim Wade, owner of Cody, Wyoming-based North Fork Anglers guide and outfitting service. “Losing any public access puts in jeopardy my business and the good wages I pay employees to show people a fun time when visiting the wilds of Wyoming.”

Ludington said defeating the amendment will allow Wyoming Hunters and Anglers Alliance to continue to work on its key issues of protecting public lands, advocating for increased funding to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, keeping wildlife migration corridors open, and protecting Wyoming’s waters and fisheries. He said he hopes that, while efforts to transfer federal public lands continue nationally, Wyoming can lead the way in developing more collaborative public lands solutions.

“We look forward to working with the Wyoming State Legislature and the people of Wyoming to devise solutions that can lead to better local input on federal land management, particularly as it pertains to maintaining the unparalleled hunting and fishing opportunities that we have in this state,” Ludington said. “But make no mistake: We remain vigilant to the ongoing threat of public land transfer. The people of Wyoming do not want it, and we will fight it until the end.”

A rally organized by the "Keep It Public, Wyoming" coalition

A rally organized by the “Keep It Public, Wyoming” coalition