Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Proposal to transfer federal lands to state ownership divisive, and debated

Whether debated over a steaming cup of coffee in a rural cafĂ© or deliberated in the chambers of the Montana Capitol, the transfer of federal lands to state or private ownership has become a divisive political issue from Eureka to Ekalaka. Proponents and many opponents of a transfer argue that the state outperforms the federal government in management of public lands, and that the wood products industry needs more access to national forests for timber and other natural resource development. Escalating the debate was the Montana Republican Party’s June 2014 resolution making support for the land transfer an official party platform. The language in the resolution calls for a timely and orderly transfer, with government officials working in concert and providing resources to state and local governments to manage the lands, said one of the state’s major supporters of a transfer, Sen. Jennifer Fielder, R-Thompson Falls. The resolution also eliminates any sale of transferred lands without the consent of Montana’s citizens, she said. “I think the resolution is very thoughtful, filled with fact and the belief that Montanans can do a lot better than the federal government managing our lands,” Fielder said. “What right does the federal government have to control 80 percent of Mineral County? The fundamental question is do we want more federal control of Montana or do we want less?” Fielder chairs the SJ-15 working group under the Environmental Quality Council. The working group studies federal management of public lands, and makes recommendations to the Legislature on solutions to management shortfalls. Similar committees examining federal land issues have convened in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming and Nevada. SJ-15 studied a variety of management solutions like better coordination between federal and county governments, but extensive discussion and testimony about a land transfer garnered the most statewide attention...more

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