The counties that actively oppose a federal lands transfer — The High Country News

Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep
Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep

From The High Country News (Tay Wiles):

Over the past few years, several Western states have passed or proposed legislation to study the possibility of transferring ownership of federal lands from the American public to states. Utah finished a study last fall; Idaho has conducted three; Montana and Nevada have also put out studies. Arizona and Wyoming passed study bills this year. Oregon has a proposal in the works; bills have failed in Colorado, New Mexico and Washington. Supporters of today’s movement, which echoes similar efforts over the past century, say the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service mismanage land and are driven by Eastern bureaucrats out of touch with Western issues.

A counter-movement is now percolating through a growing number of Western counties. In the state of Colorado, San Miguel, La Plata, Pitkin, San Juan, Eagle, Summit and Boulder counties all oppose transferring ownership of federal land to states. “People think this is just the Sagebrush Rebellion (a resurgence from the 1970s and ’80s movement) and it will never go anywhere,” says Rachel Richards, a Pitkin County commissioner in Colorado. “But we have an entirely different tenor in Washington, DC now. It has been federal government by people who hate federal government.”

The Pitkin resolution says that county has “gone to great lengths to ensure that appropriate rights of access to federal lands remain open to the public.” Richards worries that if a land transfer happened, public access to that land would be in jeopardy.

San Miguel County’s resolution, which passed in March, also indicated access for recreation was a major concern. The Salt Lake City council in Utah and Teton and Albany counties in Wyoming passed resolutions opposing the transfer of lands in May.

The commission of Sweetwater County, Wyoming, sent a letter opposing a land transfer to the county’s state senators and representatives in January. The letter cited potential loss of public access and multiple use, and weakened environmental protections. Sweetwater is a notable addition to the opposition movement because at the moment, it’s home to more Republicans than Democrats — a combination that usually equals more support for states’ rights than for federal control…

[Wally Congdon] says that the federal land transfer movement is obstructionist and the opposite of civic engagement. “This is like the movie Network,” he says. “When people just go to the window, throw it open and say, ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more.’ Well, guess what guys, that is not participation in government.”

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