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Other states working on taking control of federal lands

2014-05-15T06:00:00Z 2014-07-10T00:11:33Z Other states working on taking control of federal landsTom Kuglin Independent Record Helena Independent Record
May 15, 2014 6:00 am  • 

Officials from four western states testified about efforts to transfer federal lands to state ownership before a legislative working group exploring the same issue in Montana.

The Environmental Quality Council’s SJ-15 working group heard from state senators in Wyoming and Idaho, a state representative from Utah and a Nevada county commissioner during Wednesday’s council meeting at the Capitol. The working group is tasked with evaluating federal land management in Montana, and how to best manage public lands for the benefit of the state. As part of that evaluation, the working group has taken up exploring the transfer of federal lands to state ownership, which has gained traction most notably in Utah.

The EQC is chaired and appointed by Sen. John Brenden of Scobey. The council advises the Legislature and state agencies on environmental policy.

Wyoming state Sen. Eli Bebout, who chairs that state’s Federal Natural Resource Management Committee, told the working group that his constituents are very concerned with the overreach of the federal government. Bebout specifically took aim at the Environmental Protection Agency, which makes decisions through rule making and regulations and not through a congressional process.

Brenden told Bebout that Montana shared the same concerns over EPA overreach, and took his own shot at the agency.

“It sounds like we have a lot in common,” Brenden said. “Talking about the EPA, in one example, we’ve been fighting the Clean Water Act, which is a takings in my mind of property owners and ranchers.”

The EQC then heard testimony from Sen. Chuck Winder of Idaho, who chairs the Federal Lands Interim Committee in that state. Winder told the working group that officials in Idaho consulted with its attorney general on the transfer of federal lands to state ownership. The attorney general told the officials that a takeover of lands via the courts did not have merit. Not to be discouraged, Idaho hired private legal counsel to continue exploring a legal avenue, but also wants to explore a political remedy as well, he said.

People in Idaho are not satisfied with the management of their federal lands, and cumbersome regulations make using those lands for grazing, timber or mineral development almost impossible, Winder said.

“People know management of federal lands in our state is broken,” he said. “The feds control 90 percent of lands in some counties. We have no tax base to support our schools. We used to have mining and logging, but those have gone away.”

Idaho has gained traction working with local officials from the federal government, but those officials are then overruled by higher-ups in Washington, D.C., Winder said. Idaho plans to continue to gather information on their options for influencing federal activity in the state.

Utah has done the most work on the transfer of federal lands, and Rep. Keven Stratton of that state told the EQC that, if successful, Utah plans to keep those lands public. Utah passed a bill inviting the federal government to turn over lands to the state. The federal government has not yet agreed.

“These lands have a better chance of being taken care of by the state of Utah than the federal level,” Stratton said. “Public lands are in safer hands in a very well managed state than in the hands of federal stewards with the challenges they face.”

Even if the lands were transferred, Utah realizes that many of the regulations under the EPA and Endangered Species Act would still apply, Stratton said, and Utah is performing an economic analysis of a takeover.

Nevada has performed an economic analysis of the takeover of federal lands, and the outcome would be good for the state and counties, said Elko County commissioner Demar Dahl.

Nevada convened a committee of county commissioners to study the transfer of public lands. When they first met, the group was split down the middle for and against. After hiring a firm to analyze the economic impact, everyone on the committee voted in favor, Dahl said.

According to the study, net revenue to the state would be $334 million from management, he said.

The public had the chance to weigh in on all they heard during Wednesday’s testimony.

Speaking on behalf of timber harvesters in Mineral County, Josef Kuchern said that they would support a land transfer to Montana, and encouraged the working group to push for more timber harvest.

Other commenters spoke to the legality of transferring lands, and encouraged the working group to use caution.

“If you’re going to do this (pursue land transfer) you need to study the economic feasibility, which in my opinion is throwing money down a rat hole,” said Jim Davis. “A better solution is for the Legislature to put pressure on those agencies, make those agencies work more closely with local government agencies.”

“Sen. Orin Hatch went to the Utah Legislature and told them they’re not going to win,” said Nick Gevock of the Montana Wildlife Federation. “We agree that we need better forest management, but instead of pushing for this we need collaboration.”

Tom Kuglin Independent Record​

Copyright 2015 Helena Independent Record. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(16) Comments

  1. RC
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    RC - May 16, 2014 7:07 am
    So, who stops FedGov from selling these so-called "public" lands to foreigners, be they from outside the state or the country for that matter?

    Ask yourself what happens when a city goes bankrupt and who ends up owning it?

    Understand it is complicated because the way US Treasury Bonds work, China can't just "call in the markers", they can sell them on the secondary market for a loss but not if that land is used as collateral.

    Am I the only one who knows about the Eminent Domain Talks this administration has been having with China to secure the debt China is absorbing?
  2. dietz1963
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    dietz1963 - May 15, 2014 8:09 pm
    And all that land that has been sold to private rich people over the years that used to be public land was controlled by which level of government in the last 40 years?
  3. turner
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    turner - May 15, 2014 7:36 pm
    Already happening glennmonahan - take a look at congress already giving the states the ability to turn portions of our federal interstate highway system into toll roads, or not fixing the interstate and instead allowing private toll roads to replace the interstate. Dwight Eisenhower must be rolling in his grave watching one of his greatest domestic accomplishments going down the drain. What he did truly put the "united" into the United States. Now we seem headed back to the good old days of toll roads. Also right on about Brenden Farms - and he is not the only one. Remember when Rep Curtis of Butte called out a bunch of others like Brenden on their six and seven figure federal subsidies while they were decrying things like lunch programs for kids and the elderly? It's nice to see this much outrage. Better yet, I suspect it's bi-partisan rage - as it rightly should be. No one should vote for anyone - regardless of party affiliation - who supports this, or for that matter even suggests it should be considered
  4. turner
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    turner - May 15, 2014 7:19 pm
    Well said Darth. All I have to do is look at Matt Rosendale - multi-million dollar property investor turned Montana rancher/congressional candidate to see what's in store for us when he and his ilk succeed in turning federal lands over to the state. The first time there is even a whisper of fiscal difficulties, or even if there isn't and it's just a matter of someone's rich out of state buddy wants a game preserve of their own suddenly Montana has too much public land, taxes are too high, it's too expensive to take care of, we have too many bureaucrats already trying to take care of it, we can't afford to fight the fires, etc, etc etc. So, let's sell it!. If we do we can have new schools, better highways, new buildings, higher wages, more jobs, low unemployment, less government, lower taxes, more logging, more development - we'll be rolling in the dough - a virtual utopia. I can hear it all now - we are already hearing it. Only thing is, even more of Montana will not be owned by Montanans. We sold it for a few short-sighted bucks and huge profit for those who already have a disproportionate share of everything already, but they can never have enough.
  5. DiscountDave
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    DiscountDave - May 15, 2014 6:09 pm
    I'm all for it. Not like anyone uses the federal land here right now. I don't so I assume others don't either.
  6. Darth Vader
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    Darth Vader - May 15, 2014 3:00 pm
    This is a terrible idea. It would lead to higher taxes for the people of Montana, higher grazing fees, a possible private take over of public land when the state can no longer maintain it, an who knows what other misgivings. This is an effort by folks who want to ride four wheelers and drive 4x4s wherever they choose, those who want to harvest timber without limits, mine more (even though mining is driven by the market and now ownership) and some who just plain hate government in general. We could not begin to foot the bill for a bad fire season. On top of that the State would lose millions in in lieu of tax payments.
  7. dietz1963
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    dietz1963 - May 15, 2014 2:38 pm
    Seems to me here recently there was a bill regarding federal land here in Montana that our Montana folks introduced, passed the House but got held up in the Senate by 3 out of state folks....
  8. dietz1963
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    dietz1963 - May 15, 2014 2:36 pm
    Hmmm, so if having Montanan land under federal rule has been or is so successful, then why is it all that land I used to go on to fish or hunt is now owned by (in some cases) private and very rich out of staters that only use it during the summer months when its warmer?
  9. lampropeltis
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    lampropeltis - May 15, 2014 1:45 pm
    Legislation by the wealthy for the wealthy. Taylor made to privatize the land that only the wealthy will be able to purchase. The trick they employ over and over again is to get the working class to go along with it under a fake guise of "freedom" and "liberty". The wealthy tried at the federal level to privatize public lands under GW Bush and that effort was wildly unpopular. The land barons are now working on a state level where it's easier to bribe and coerce under our nations crumbling anti-corruption laws. The "sagebrush rebellion" foolishness is simply a front for wealthy interests.
  10. Couleeking
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    Couleeking - May 15, 2014 11:46 am
    A Gallup poll surveyed people in all 50 states to find out what percentage of residents say their state was the very best or one of the best places to live. The results are at the link pasted below. What the news report of this poll result did not detect is that pride in one's state of residence directly correlates to the amount of federal public land in that state. The western states with large federal public lands dominated the scale of people's pride in their state. Montana and Alaska ranked tops, etc. The sagebrush rebel quoted in the story to effect that eastern states have little federal lands insinuates that is a good thing. The people who actually live in those states don't seem to get the satisfaction message, however.
    The notion that the United States Government had somehow restricted itself from owning and maintaining public lands is entirely a fiction of the sagebrush mind. Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution requires the federal government to maintain ownership of land acquired by treaty and several other criteria. The only federal public lands in western states not acquired by treaty are those acquired by direct conquest (of the native peoples).
    The general policy of the national government across its history until the last homestead act was closed and the passage of FLIPMA in 1976 was to divest lands into private ownership to the extent such was practicable. Homesteading was much more feasible east of the 100th Meridian and that's why eastern states are predominantly private.
    The great exception to this general policy was the deliberate establishment of a reserved public estate under the leadership of Theodore Roosevelt. Thus came the core public landscape treasury of national forests, Wildlife Refuges, national parks and monuments.
    Those privateers who keep their souls in their wallet were furious at T.R. and they have been unrelenting in their efforts to tear down the Great American Commons ever since.
    The greatest danger at this point is that Montanans and other westerners will think such an ownership transfer is impossible. Hah! Give the Republicans control of the U.S. Senate and the Presidency in 2016 and you will see what is possible.
    In that case westerners can think about moving east to a state where at least they fix the potholes and you don't have to drive 50 miles to reach a C Store.
    State Pride poll link --
  11. katqanna
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    katqanna - May 15, 2014 10:36 am
    I attended this meeting yesterday, but unfortunately my carpool ride had to leave and the meeting went longer than the agenda schedule, so I didnt get to make public comments. These guest speakers from the other states kept saying transfer lands "back" to the states. But these federal lands have never belonged to the states. The US govt purchased the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, which included what would later become the state of Montana. Some of the other states were part of other land transfers from England, Spain and Mexico - all Federal. It is false marketing to state transfer or get "back" these lands.

    Also, polls show US opposition to federal land selling or transfer to states at 67% in 2013, growing to 74% in 2014. People realize what they would be losing - our Public Trust. In Montana those numbers were higher - 66% in 2013 and 78% in 2014. This vocal minority of malcontents are not only wasting legislative time and resources with their agenda (which is probably outside of the EQC perview), but our taxpayer dollars.
  12. Bret Lian
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    Bret Lian - May 15, 2014 8:33 am
    Public lands are one of the things that make the west great. They are an equalizer. This is just a ploy by people with knee-jerk reactions to anything federal government to make resource extraction easier, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but doing so by reducing protections on habitat - for both humans and animals - is a shortsighted way to achieve that.

    The Clean Water Act is a "takings" by the federal government? With our State's history, it's hard to believe a Montanan would say that.

    What happens when we have another 1910 and Montana is in the red due to firefighting costs? I'll bet selling lands for revenue is posed as a solution. That or allowing resource extraction/land use we typically would not in circumstances where we were in the black, like we are today.

    What happens when the counties decide the State is doing a poor job of land management? Transfer state lands to the counties? Then what?

    This is not thought out, is fiscally irresponsible, and focuses solely on the shortfalls of federal management while ignoring all the successes - the 5.8 billion dollars a year spent in MT on outdoor recreation, our second largest industry and most of which is dependent on public lands - the North American Model of Wildlife, which is largely dependent on good habitat provided by federal lands - and the amazing opportunities we Montanans have to hunt, fish, and recreate, all most all of which occurs on Federal Lands.

    The west is growing, access is increasingly difficult, and the pressure on public lands will only increase. We need to protect our public lands legacy.

  13. lessCO2
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    lessCO2 - May 15, 2014 8:06 am
    To Stratton, Winder and Dahl, keep your paws off my federal lands, this is not YOUR avenue to a cash cow of resource extraction! The federal lands in Idaho, Nevada, and Utah belong to the people of this country and trying to revive the Sagebrush Rebellion over and over again only brings together your opposition. If Cliven Bundy is your hero, then saving the rare and endangered desert tortoise from his illegal cattle grazing is the cause many many americans will stand behind. Time to fight again these rebels America! Let's get ready to rumble!
  14. taxpayer victim
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    taxpayer victim - May 15, 2014 7:58 am
    Typical selfish rancher attitude. Transferring federal land to states would be a gateway for the states to then transfer ownership to adjacent landowners at a deep discount. Just look at Farm Bureaus' by laws/manifesto, they believe all public land should be sold to adjacent property owners(ranchers/farmers) at the value per acre it would take to feed a cow.
    Face it, agriculture is the biggest welfare recipient in the country. They can't wait to get their hands on our land.
  15. glennmonahan
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    glennmonahan - May 15, 2014 7:13 am
    Why stop with Federal lands? Montana should take over all Federal highways, and pay the bill to keep them maintained ... Does Brenden and Fielder think Montana can do a better job?

    Montana should also take over Malmstrom Air Force base, which provides 40% of the jobs in Great Falls; certainly Montana can manage the nuclear missiles much better than the hated Feds!

    And best of all Montana should take over the Federal Farm Subsidy program, from which Brenden Farms (John Brenden and his family) in Scobey Montana has collected $535,000 in the past 14 years.

    These people are selfish, self-serving wing nuts, who selectively attack the federal government, but refuse to acknowledge the ways that they benefit from the evil Feds.

    Public lands define the west, and there is no way Montana can afford to manage these treasures. They would be sold to the highest bidder, and the majority of Montanans would be big losers.
  16. McCMT
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    McCMT - May 15, 2014 6:52 am
    "Brenden told Bebout that Montana shared the same concerns..." What makes these people think they represent all of Montana?

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