By Tory Taylor
Dear Representative Cynthia Lummis,
Thank you for your form letter explaining H.R. 2316, the Self-Sufficient Community Lands Act.
I have carefully studied your explanatory letter and found no redeeming merit to H.R. 2316. I remain strongly opposed.
You state that H.R. 2316 is not a ‘land-grab’ bill, but that is exactly what it is — a land-grab and a power-grab. The bill seeks to remove control of some U.S. Forest Service lands from the owners of federal lands — the American public — and, instead, give control to carefully state-selected groups of special interests. These carefully selected special-interest groups will no doubt place economic activities on federal lands above other public land uses such as wildlife habitat protection, clean air and water, and non-motorized recreation.
I do not believe in living in the past, but we can learn from history to better understand the present and help map the future. Distrust and hostility toward the United States government (aka The Feds) is a part of American and Wyoming history. States’ rights versus federal rights is an issue as old as our nation. This issue was central in the drafting of our national constitution. Delegates at the 1787 Constitutional Congress struggled greatly with federal and state rights. From 1861 to 1865 our nation again struggled with the issue, this time violently, and nearly doomed our nation during the Civil War. Pushback against the federal government surfaced as far back as the 1800’s Indian Wars, the 1846 war with Mexico, and the 1847 settlement of Utah and Wyoming by Mormon pioneers.
Resentment of federal ownership of much of the West has cropped up decade after decade, often by those who stand to make a buck from federal lands. It seems we Westerners do not want federal control and regulations, but we gladly accept federal money and natural resources. In recent decades the Western states’ culture and custom of federal-government bashing has surfaced in the Sagebrush Rebellion, the People for the West, the Wise Use Movement, and other groups. Most recently we have seen federal government resentment take the form of domestic terrorism at the Malheur Federal Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz said that Texas has 2 percent of public land and that is 2 percent too much.
Recently I had had an alarming discussion with a young, card-carrying member of the Libertarian Party who told me that Libertarians and the Tea Party do not believe in public lands and that all public land should be privatized. Is this correct? During the 2016 elections, I hope voters will ask candidates exactly where they stand on federal public lands.
Hostility towards “The Feds” is a fundamental political tool in Wyoming as well as other Western states. Federal government bashing is a favorite pastime and sport with some. I have at times cussed “The Feds,” appealed their management decisions, and been involved with taking them to court. At other times I have worked closely with them and have supported their management decisions for public lands. I have used existing federal processes to exert my local voice.
“The Feds” are not enemies; they are part of the Wyoming landscape and life. Federal employees are our neighbors, the folks we visit with at the post office and the grocery store, the people sitting next to us in pews, and the fans in the high school gymnasium stands cheering the boys and girls on the sports floor. “The Feds” are professionals doing their best while some Washington, D.C. lawmakers are gutting their budgets and stripping their ability to manage federal public lands.
Representative Lummis, you portray H.R. 2316 as a benign bill. I see it differently. It will add another layer of state bureaucracy to the existing federal management of public land, thereby increasing government, not shrinking it. You say that the state can manage public land better than the federal government, yet several wildlife populations declined while under state management. Some wildlife populations now have to be protected by the Federal Endangered Species Act, a federal law in the cross-hair sights of industry and their politicians.
Wyoming citizens may wish to study a recent land management experiment that took place in northern New Mexico. The 100,000 acre Baca Ranch was established in 1876 and changed hands several times. The ranch was overgrazed, improperly logged, and finally offered for sale. In 2000, the Baca Ranch was purchased by the federal government and became the Valles Caldera National Preserve. Today cattle grazing is permitted on a sustainable level, the preserve offers numerous public recreational opportunities, and the grassy preserve is elk heaven. Hunters, and future generations of hunters, now have access and fantastic elk hunting and fishing opportunities on this federal public land.
In closing, Representative Lummis, I hope those candidates who run for your office when you step down will make very clear to Wyoming voters their views on federal land management.
Those who wish to put federal lands under state control are like a dog chasing a car. What are they going to do if they catch it? Be careful of what you ask for.
Thank you for your time,
Tory Taylor, Dubois
— Dubois based outfitter Tory Taylor has explored the forests of northwest Wyoming on horseback for more than 40 years, leading wilderness pack trips into the Washakie and Fitzpatrick wilderness areas.
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