Jan. 6, 2017
On its first day of the 115th Congress, the U.S. House of Representatives voted for a rule change that fast tracks the transfer of federal public lands to states. Wyoming’s lone House representative, Liz Cheney, voted in favor of the rule change.
Her vote Tuesday directly counters the wishes of a majority of Wyoming residents who oppose turning control of federal public lands over to the state. Several groups, including hunters and anglers, outdoor recreation enthusiasts, conservation groups, and public lands-oriented businesses, are voicing their concerns.
“Liz Cheney used one of her first votes to tell the public a huge whopper: that transferring federal lands to states won’t cost the federal government a cent,” said Max Ludington of the Wyoming Hunters and Anglers Alliance. “She’s saying these lands have no value, when in reality, they are priceless to many Wyomingites, especially the hunting and fishing community.”
Cheney, along with the majority of Republican representatives, voted to change an accounting rule that Congress uses when considering whether to dispose of federal public land. Currently, the Congressional Budget Office requires lawmakers to consider lost revenues to the U.S. Treasury that result from such transfers—from energy extraction, grazing, logging and other activities. The rule passed by the House would falsely designate any transfer legislation “budget neutral,” eliminating existing safeguards against undervaluing public lands and making a bill calling for a land transfer more palatable. Cheney also became a new member of the influential House Rules Committee that proposed this and other rule changes.
“This move seems to undermine the value of fiscal responsibility often promoted by the Republican majority,” said Rev. Warren Murphy, of Cody and the former director of the Wyoming Association of Churches. “It is also out of line with Wyoming’s own practice of requiring a fiscal note for any proposed legislation.”
“We know there’s an enormous amount of money raised by the federal government from the commercial use of public lands that benefits all Americans,” said WYHAA board member Ludington. Mineral royalties alone from federal lands across the country average about $11 billion a year. “Sportsmen and women want to see a balanced approach to development that protects our wildlife and water, ensures public input in their management and public access for future generations. We believe that Rep. Cheney should understand that disposing of those lands to the state guarantees none of those protections.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the actual value of the federally owned lands themselves is at least $1.8 trillion—a figure Congress would seemingly want to take into account in any deliberations about disposal—much less the value they generate for western communities. “This vote represents a potential detriment to the multibillion dollar outdoor recreation economy that our state enjoys,” said Aaron Pruzan of Rendezvous River Sports, based in Jackson. “I hope our new Representative will consider the long term interests of Wyoming and the reasons why hunters, anglers, hikers, skiers, bikers, paddlers, photographers, equestrians, motorcyclists, and snowmobilers who recreate on our public lands are against the transfer of these lands.”
“Legislative proponents of land transfer want to ignore a host of economic and legal realities to push their pro-development agenda,” said Tim Wade of North Fork Anglers in Cody. “Public land transfer would benefit a handful of wealthy outside interests, to the detriment of everyone else. The notion that transfer to the state would be a broad-ranging boon to our economy or anything else is pure fiction.”
People in Wyoming who cherish public lands for the lifestyles and economies they support are becoming increasingly vocal in their opposition to land transfer. Citizens have packed recent legislative committee meetings and flooded lawmakers’ phone lines and email inboxes in an uproar against a bill proposed for the upcoming legislature session that would put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to help pave the way for public land transfer to the state. A short video produced by Wyoming Hunters and Anglers Alliance about opposition to the amendment has received over 175,000 views on social media in the past three days.
“There is zero visible public support for this amendment that lawmakers are trying to shove down the throats of Wyoming people,” Murphy said. “It’s the same old crew that’s been pushing land transfer bills for years now. It’s a shame that Rep. Cheney would have her first vote threaten the outdoor heritage of the West.”
“It’s disappointing that one of our new Congress’ first acts is so ill-advised and dangerous for Wyoming sportsmen and sportswomen. Congresswoman Cheney is our representative, so we will look for every opportunity to work with her towards a more collaborative approach to resolving federal land management issues,” said Ludington. To that end, he added, “We hope she plans to spend more time here getting to know the people of Wyoming and understanding how public lands are a core part of the culture of our state.”
Liz Cheney voted that the federal government shouldn’t consider public lands to be worth anything. If you disagree, consider calling one of her offices (she’s in D.C. now) or click here to email her (her email program is ridiculously complicated, but it’s worth it).
Washington, D.C. – (202) 225-2311
Casper – (307) 261-6595
Cheyenne – (307) 772-2592
Sheridan – (307) 673-4608