Transfer Of Public Lands May 2016
Thursday June 2, 2016
by Marti Halverson


I support, 100%, keeping public lands in public hands.

Regardless of whether you favor or oppose transfer of Wyoming’s federally-controlled public lands to the state, whether you fear or embrace transfer, it cannot be disputed that the legal arguments support it.  It cannot be disputed that Wyoming and the other 12 Western states were promised transfer.  Thirty-eight other states were promised, and achieved, the transfer of the public lands in their states.

Wyoming’s Constitution, approved by Congress in 1890, states in Article 21, Section 26:  The people inhabiting this state do agree and declare that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within the boundaries thereof, and to all lands lying within said limits owned or held by any Indian or Indian tribes, and that until the title thereto shall have been extinguished by the United States, the same shall be and remain subject to the disposition of the United States and that said Indian lands shall remain under the absolute jurisdiction and control of the congress of the United States;

Wyoming’s Act of Admission in 1890 brought us into the Union "on equal footing with the original states in all respects".

A widely renowned Constitutional lawyer Ronald Rotunda, along with four other highly esteemed attorneys, last December issued a 150-page report supporting the transfer claims of the 12 western states.  I am not a lawyer, and I have no intention of arguing the legalities here.  I instead rely on the work of experts.  Two University of Utah law professors challenged Utah’s 2012 transfer law in court - and lost.

Spend five minutes with Constitutional Law Professor Ron Rotunda:

In suing for its public lands, Hawaii asserted its enabling act promise and won.  In ruling for Hawaii, the United States Supreme Court said that the US Congress cannot pass a law - the 1976 Federal Lands Policy and Management Act - that obviates the federal promise made at statehood.

From the University of Michigan Journal of Law:  "Moreover, in conjunction with this "promise" there is controlling precedent equating the Enabling Acts with bilateral contracts, and the promises made in such Acts by the United States have been held to be "obligatory on the United States".

For those that fear transfer, I urge you to study the experience in Canada, when the Crown agreed to transfer its lands to the Government of the Northwest Territories.  From the moment the parties agreed to transfer, it took ten years of planning before devolution was finalized on April 1, 2014.

Transfer plans do not seek the transfer of US military installations, Indian reservations, national parks, national monuments or congressionally-designated Wilderness areas, among other exceptions.

The "seize and sell" argument is just plain false.  It’s a scare tactic designed to raise funds for anti-transfer special interests who oppose multiple use.  It is an attempt to conflate transfer with privatization.  Our HB 209, which passed the House in 2015, specifically called for "no net loss of public land".  Transfer advocates DO NOT want to privatize public lands.

On the other hand, just in Nevada, (as I recently learned at the meeting of the National Association of Counties/Western Interstate Region) the BLM makes more money selling public land than from managing public land.  Public land is mostly sold by BLM to private entities - which can be a good thing, if the sale increases tax revenues to counties for schools, hospitals and public safety entities.  The point is: the BLM is the entity selling and privatizing public lands.  

Transfer proponents know that states can responsibly increase revenues without selling, or privatizing public lands.



I have been accused of "drinking the Utah Kool-Aid".  The fact is, the Utah legislature courageously began this movement with its 2011 Resolution:  

The coalition to transfer the federally-controlled lands now includes representatives from 13 states.

The point of transfer is local and state management - and, keeping public lands in public hands for the purpose of access, public health and, yes, productivity.

Get the facts:



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