Should Montana take control of federal lands in the state?

Environmental Quality Council hears testimony on topic by six people from various backgrounds
2014-01-09T06:00:00Z 2014-07-10T00:11:33Z Should Montana take control of federal lands in the state?By EVE BYRON Independent Record Helena Independent Record
January 09, 2014 6:00 am  • 

Spirited discussions took place in the Capitol Wednesday on whether Montana should attempt to wrest ownership of public lands from the federal government.

Ken Ivory, a Utah state representative and attorney, urged members of the Environmental Quality Council to continue down its path of investigating whether Montana should try to assume ownership and management of some or all of the federal lands in the Treasure State. Ivory was one of six people from a range of backgrounds asked to testify before the EQC.

Under legislation passed in 2013, the EQC is reviewing what’s been called the “complex web of laws, court decisions and financial realities,” under which public lands are governed.

When the nation was formed 200 years ago, Ivory said, the idea was that as states were created they would be given title to some of the federal lands. National parks, military installations, Indian reservations, congressionally designated wilderness and a few other parcels wouldn’t be part of those transferred lands.

“The federal government promised all the new states they would transfer the title to public lands to the states,” Ivory said. “It’s already been done before repeatedly, and I submit it’s the only solution to ensure we can educate our children, protect the environment and keep our energy independence.”

He noted that east of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico, more than 95 percent of the public lands are controlled by the states. That drops to only 50 percent west of that line. It would be more economically feasible and practical for the states to manage those lands, Ivory said.

He sponsored a bill in Utah that requires the United States government to make the title transfer by the end of 2014, though conceding that probably won’t happen within that time frame. He added that five other states — Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, Nevada and Montana — also passed legislation to explore the issue.

“We set that as a date to work toward,” Ivory said. “(Utah’s) House Bill 148 set a deadline because without a deadline you know it gets put off and it really crystallized the groups working on this. No one said this is a quick fix.”

That was one of the few statements Ivory made that Tom France, an attorney with the National Wildlife Federation, supported.

“I don’t think the federal government will be divesting lands anytime soon, and I don’t think it’s a profitable way to spend our time,” France said. “But all of us agree there are some problems. We need to do a better job moving timber off federal lands; so the question becomes how to do that and where do we do that.”

But he urged the EQC to step back from legal or legislative actions that Ivory touted, saying that approach will pull the West apart.

“There are people who strongly believe in our public lands and will fight forever to see them preserved for generations,” France said. “We need to combine our common interest in that landscape.”

More than one-third of Montana is publicly owned, with most of that land held by the federal government. That has a significant impact on the state in a variety of ways, ranging from the environment to educational funding.

Peter Kolb, a state forestry specialist, noted that under management practices, about 6 billion board feet are allowed to be harvested annually on federal lands in Montana, but in 2012 only 2.6 billion board feet was taken. He added that of the 27 million acres of forest land in Montana, 5.5 million acres has burned in the last 12 years and trees on close to 14 million acres have been killed or severely damaged by various beetle and worm outbreaks.

Regardless of who owns the public lands, Kolb said they need to collaborate and move more quickly on the ground when wildfires, beetle kill or other unforeseen problem arise. The federal government gets bogged down with well-meaning legislation that often leads to what’s known as “analysis paralysis” and by the time it decides on a course of action it’s usually too late.

“To do that you need managers who are intimate with the land, and the ability to make decisions on that land in a timely fashion,” Kolb said. “Whether it’s the state or federal government is irrelevant to me.”

But Doyel Shamley, chairman of an Arizona consulting firm that specializes in natural resources, said in his experience, “collaborated processes are a flop.” He suggested that states and counties invoke the 10th Amendment and undertake land management activities on federal property if needed for the “health, safety and welfare” of the people.

As John Tubbs, director of the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, listened to the panel discussion, he urged the EQC to look at the big picture and keep the future in mind.

“I’m not focused on whether today is a day of major watershed change in federal policy management in Montana, but what projects I can move forward with next year, showing cooperation through our agency and federal land management,” Tubbs said, noting that the state is working in conjunction with federal agencies on a variety of projects. “And if you recall, under the previous administration we gained a lot of land and we’re actively trying to figure out how to manage that land now that we own it.”

Reporter Eve Byron: 447-4076 or Follow Eve on Twitter @IR_EveByron

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

(17) Comments

  1. skooter
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    skooter - January 16, 2014 10:03 am
    I agree…feels like the 90's energy deregulation push all over again to me. A concerted effort begun to move these resources out of the relatively protected hands into those of the state where they can be manipulated much more easily. And by a majority run by repubs who, irregardless of other political finger pointing issues (I have many), will always side with corporate interests first.
  2. Riamh
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    Riamh - January 15, 2014 6:10 pm
    This sort of a "land grab" is very disturbing. I cannot help but wonder who would stand to benefit from such an arrangement? With the proven corruption in play in Washington DC, and our own legislature, I just can't help but smell a rat. Sounds like some corporate interest has their eyes on public lands.
  3. MTElkHunter
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    MTElkHunter - January 10, 2014 12:02 pm
    Flathead County citizens are having to raise millions of dollars to keep DNRC from selling our state forests near Whitefish to wealthy developers and Alberta subdividers. The real estate division at DNRC, the state's lead fire-fighting agency, aspires to privatize state lands ... or force the public to pay through the nose to keep public lands public. (Is DNRC's efforts to privatize state forests and build houses in the fire-prone wildand-urban interface a job-security scheme?) Same thing is happening in Utah. That's the agenda behind the land grab for our national forests being pushed by these Utah legislators. Keep public lands in public hands!
  4. Matthew Koehler
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    Matthew Koehler - January 10, 2014 8:27 am
    Rep Daines wants to forever change the way America's National Forests are managed by simply having politicians mandate dramatic increases in National Forest logging levels all across America's 155 National Forests, at a time when US lumber consumption is down nearly 50%.

    Ah, yes, the predictable cries for "more logging."

    Do all those complaining about "gridlock" actually understand the fact that between 2008 and 2012 the US Forest Service sold enough logging sales in Montana and North Idaho to fill over 239,000 logging trucks, which if lined up end-to-end, would stretch for 2,048 miles. Does that sound like a lack of logging from National Forests to anyone?

    Do all the "more logging" complainers understand that America has been part of a global economic recession for the past 5 years? Those selfishly calling for "more logging" must not realize that US Lumber consumption is down nearly 50% over the past 10 years and new home construction is still just a fraction of what it once was. Ok, you boys want US Taxpayers to pony more money to subsidize more logging on our national forests. I get that, but where in the heck are all those trees going to go? And do you think national forests might provide other things besides just lumber? What about wildlife habitat, clean water? You'd think the National Wildlife Federation would support wildlife habitat and clean water, eh?

    P.S. Has anyone looked into why Tom France is not longer the Regional Director of the National Wildlife Federation?
  5. Abbie
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    Abbie - January 09, 2014 8:06 pm
    It's all about control as far as the enviro's. are concerned--- control of resources, control of state decisions, control, control, control. It becomes very tedious after a while. Under the guise of 'protecting the land for future generations', they attempt to shaft the current generations. No. The control belongs to each state.
  6. bhallinan
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    bhallinan - January 09, 2014 5:54 pm
    Assume all Federal land in Montana is now in the hands of the State of Montana. Anyone want to guess how quickly and how corrupt politics would become as the five members of the State Land board voted on who gets what, when, and why?

    In Utah, my guess is one of the root causes of this movement has more to do with over population. No place to go/grow/populate except prime Federal land. Too bad we have not figured out how to reproduce in a sustainable way.

    I like how much public land we have in Montana and want to keep it wild as possible while still serving as many beings as possible. The general problem with the human species is we think the earth was made for us alone. Perhaps there is a greater good to be served by keeping public land both for humans and the other species that call it home.
  7. gbrown
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    gbrown - January 09, 2014 5:20 pm is an organization to help us regain control of our states, and therefore our nation, from the grassroots up. The dead trees, brush overgrowth, and increasing lack of road access all contribute to create an emergency situation in our forests. We need to have our commissioners declare this emergency so we can manage the forests on public lands, reducing the catastrophic fires that are now commonplace.
  8. habsfan1282
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    habsfan1282 - January 09, 2014 4:25 pm
    Your assesment of the cause of our current situation is not based in reality.
  9. 2buck2
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    2buck2 - January 09, 2014 3:47 pm
    This is a terrible idea. There is no way Montana could fund taking control of federal lands. I don't have any incentive to want to pay more of my taxes to go to managing land for special interest groups or corrupted companies who are just buying off the state officials so they can have control over land for free. If we really want control over the land then get yourself a competitive market analysis and buy it yourself. Have all the control you want but leave me out of it. I am done with the welfare state of Montana.
  10. rivory
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    rivory - January 09, 2014 3:34 pm
    There is so much misinformation out there. PLEASE NOTE that Native American lands are NOT even on the table. This is simply referring to lands that are currently federally controlled public lands. For more information, please visit
  11. shawnwhitewolf
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    shawnwhitewolf - January 09, 2014 2:30 pm
    No way man. As much as I hate the tribal corruption, taking control of land that was give through treaty would create some very unhappy campers. This a Democrat proposal or a Republican proposal? What Montana legislation was this passed through and what year?
  12. Davy Crockett
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    Davy Crockett - January 09, 2014 1:53 pm
    To answer the question...yes! What we have gained by USFS management is loss of jobs (timber & mining), millions of tons of pollutants due to horrendous fires (lack of wise timber management), millions of bugs, birds, toads, frogs, furbearers and game animals burned to death. Top that off with a bunch of USFS employees stuck with their noses in a computer instead of clearing trails, contracting people to oblterate our public roads thereby reducing access which concentrates public use in ever smaller areas and spending millions keeping neo-environmentalist lawyers wealthy. "Man up" Montana, kick the rascals out. Our DNRC will do a much better job. They are more answerable to you and I. We need to take back the frontier from out of touch people in D.C. Davy
  13. otis mule
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    otis mule - January 09, 2014 12:23 pm
    30 years ago it would have been a timely idea. Now that the timber industry has been destroyed, mining all but stopped, energy development stymied, we are better off trying to figure out a way to extract some more money from all those environmental lawyers.
  14. countrydoc
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    countrydoc - January 09, 2014 11:35 am
    the Feds suck at everything they do. the more power states wrest away from DC is ever closer to our Founders intent and actual freedom.
  15. stand4freedom
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    stand4freedom - January 09, 2014 10:28 am
    I agree with Rep. Ivory. To keep our Energy Independence we can educate our children, and protect the environment much better than the Feds can do. We are closely tied to our lands,our Treasure State, surely we can be creatively innovative to the move the citizenry here - I know we can do, we just have to slowy or speedily untie the Apron Strings of Federal government and federal government monies that just keep enlargening bureacracies!
  16. Birney Chester
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    Birney Chester - January 09, 2014 9:47 am
    It's an interesting idea. Count the number of federal land employees in the state and about 2/3 of that number would be necessary in DNRC growth to be able to even come close to managing that land. I'm definitely in favor of fewer public land agencies, i.e., USFS, BLM, NPS, Bureau of Reclamation and USFWS should be combined into one agency, get rid of a whole bunch of bureaucracy. Each agency, including DNRC, do some things well and others not as well. BLM and USFS do better at managing healthy grazing than DNRC, but DNRC blows them all out of the water on timber management, and does the only substantial crop program. It would require significant changes in the Montana constitution in regards to DNRC lands, so that current USFS and BLM lands not be treated as quasi private lands such as a large amount of DNRC lands currently are. Also a requirement of no net loss in acreage through land swaps/purchases. FWP would also likely grow as it would most likely take over USFWS refuges, and has the states only conservation officer program. It would certainly grow Montanas economy (timber mostly). But could also be unfortunately influenced by the whims of future Governors/legislators.
  17. skywatcher
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    skywatcher - January 09, 2014 8:56 am
    welcome to the republic of montana- let's just move the capital to jordan!

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