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Groups Urge Lawmakers to Keep Public Lands in Public Hands

Congress could consider legislation that would allow the transfer of up to two million acres of national forest lands to states. (Pixabay)
Congress could consider legislation that would allow the transfer of up to two million acres of national forest lands to states. (Pixabay)
September 6, 2016

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Congress is scheduled to get back to work Tuesday after a seven-week recess, and the full U.S. House may consider a new bill that could pave the way for privatizing publicly-owned lands.

If passed, HB 3650 - the State Forest Management Act - would give states the right to take direct control of national forest land. Chamois Andersen, executive director of the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, said the measure is bad news for hunters and anglers who rely on public lands.

"Up to 2 million acres in Wyoming could be transferred from federal ownership to state control for timber management. That's the size of Yellowstone,” Andersen said. "And ultimately they could be sold to the highest bidder, and that is our greatest fear."

According to Andersen, the new law would allow clear-cut logging without regard for environmental protections, putting wildlife and access to hunting and fishing at risk. The Federation has teamed up with conservation groups and the Wyoming Sportsmen's Alliance - which represents some 30,000 members - to launch a campaign opposing the legislation.

According to a new report by the Wyoming Outdoor Council, seven bills have been introduced in the last four years aimed at turning federal lands over to states. Andersen says privatization would ultimately cost the state money.

"The dollars generated toward our tourism economy from our outdoor recreation are very important,” she said. "And our lawmakers need to take notice of those dollars in terms of the economics of what these public lands can do for the state."

Outdoor recreation contributes $4.5 billion annually to Wyoming's economy, with more than $1 billion in retail sales alone. Andersen said the campaign, with the slogan "Keep Public Lands in Public Hands," is planning a public event in Laramie later this month.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - WY