Wyoming lawmakers are set to vote on a bill today calling for the transfer of federal lands to the state.
The federal government shall “extinguish title to all public lands and transfer title to public lands to the state of Wyoming,” not including national parks, monuments, wilderness areas and the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway, the bill says.
It’s one of many bills filed just before the deadline for introduction — Friday Feb. 12. Another measure contesting federal authority would inventory all federal roads and trails that have been shut down since 1976. A committee could use the resulting report to draft a law to address public access it sees lacking.
Lawmakers also may consider a provision setting terms for the sale of about 1,280 acres of state school trust land in Grand Teton National Park.
The land-transfer and public-access bill drew immediate attention and fire from conservation groups. Reps. Scott Clem (R-Gillette), David Miller (R-Riverton) and Cheri Steinmetz (R-Lingle) and Sen. Curt Meier (R-LaGrange) sponsored HB-142, Transfer of federal lands.
Numerous legal scholars have doubts that a state legislature could successfully order the federal government to turn over property held by all Americans. But that hasn’t stopped state and local governments across the West from spending taxpayers’ money proposing and advocating for federal divestment.
The public land access bill also drew conservationists’ ire. It would provide $100,000 to the Office of State Lands and Investments to catalog trails and roads on federal property that have been closed after 1976. The report would also list the reasons the routes were shut. The bill calls for comparing maps, among other methods.
The state office would submit the report to the Legislature’s Federal Natural Resource Management Committee by Nov. 30, 2017. The panel could recommend legislation based on the report.
Grand Teton lands
The bill outlining terms for the sale of state land in Grand Teton National Park would allow the state to commission an appraisal and to sell only for the highest value determined by one of several methods. Without a new state appraisal, the state set a minimum acceptable price of $92 million for the two parcels.
Sharon Mader, senior program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association said the bill could change many times if it is introduced and considered. “There are a lot of moving pieces.”
“NPCA is pleased to see these negotiations are continuing between the governor and the Department of the Interior,” she said. President Obama included $22.5 million in conservation funds for Grand Teton National Park in his FY ’17 budget.
Earmarked for what’s known as the Antelope Flats parcel, it would go part way toward paying the state for that scenic piece. The rest of the money would come from private fundraising, Mader said. The process would replace negotiations over a land exchange.
“This is a more direct path to actually finding a real solution,” Mader said.
Park officials hope for conservation. “The area is used for bison, pronghorn, elk migration,” park spokesman Andrew White said. “It’s an area we’re interested in protecting.”
This would mark the third time the Legislature has considered a bill that seeks to enable conservation of the school trust property, Mader said. “We hope it’s successful.”