Wyoming lawmakers on a task force studying the possible transfer of federal lands to state ownership want other Western states to join the fight. On Wednesday, the Task Force on Transfer of Public Lands decided to request permission from organizers of the Council of State Governments West for two task force members — Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, and Rep. David Miller, R-Riverton — to address one of the organization’s committee meetings in August. The council is a platform for elected officials to discuss ideas affecting the region.
Hicks and Miller will gauge whether other Western states want to take up the fight. Task force member Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, said states may be more successful if they approach the federal government as a group.
“In my gut, it’s going to have to be two parallel tracks: one political and one litigation,” said task force member Rep. Kermit Brown, R-Laramie, of the fight to get federal lands. “They probably need to run together because I think each one adds some impetus to the other.”
The Wyoming Legislature ordered the land transfer study. The task force will meet twice more and then present a report to the Legislature’s Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands & Water Resources Committee by November. The interim committee will decide whether to sponsor a land transfer bill for the 2014 Legislature session.
The issue of federal land ownership has become important in recent years in part because states are financially crunched, said Ken Ivory, a Republican Utah state lawmaker and president of the American Lands Council, an organization that has been pushing for Western states to fight the feds for land.
State legislatures think that if states could control the lands, they could turn the lands into a source of revenue by either selling them and collecting yearly property taxes from the new landowners or by keeping them but allowing minerals extraction at a faster rate than the federal government, Ivory said.
Wyoming is one of five states where state legislatures have passed bills ordering similar studies. The other states are Nevada, Utah, Montana and Idaho, Ivory said.