CASPER, Wyo. — Wyoming might soon eye ways the state could wrest land from the federal government — a measure that echoes the decades-old Sagebrush Rebellion.
House Bill 228, which provides $30,000 to pay for a study of the state's options, awaits Gov. Matt Mead's signature after gaining approval from the Legislature.
Critics call the study and the task force that will consider it a waste of money and time.
Task force members, to include lawmakers and others, would look at issues such as the loss of property tax revenues on federal lands, delays in permits because of federal laws and the management of wilderness.
“The study will look at what Wyoming can do to take primacy on the management of the public lands in Wyoming,” wrote bill sponsor Rep. David Miller, R-Riverton, in an email to the Star-Tribune.
The study essentially reignites the Wyoming front of the decades-old Sagebrush Rebellion, the movement from the 1960s-1980s in which many Western states tried through formal requests and state legislation to get the federal government to hand over land it owned within state borders.
Similar bills have been debated and passed in other Western states, said Shannon Anderson, an attorney for the Powder River Basin Resource Council, a Sheridan-based agricultural and conversation group.
“It’s been well-studied, it’s been well-debated,” she said. “We can’t make the federal government turn over its land to us. It’s not anything the state can do. It’s not worth spending the money to study.”
Anderson’s group was one of six that sent a letter to the Senate asking them to consider opposing the bill in a time of budget cuts and the “futility of trying to establish the legality of federal lands transfer.”
The other groups were the National Outdoor Leadership School, Wyoming Outdoor Council, Wyoming Wilderness Association, Equality State Policy Center and The Wilderness Society.
Anderson noted that the Joint Interim Minerals Committee heard testimony on Utah's similar Land Transfer Act. But no Wyoming version of the bill came out of the committee.
Miller said critics have blown concerns about the study out of proportion.
“Of course their scare tactic is to say the bill is going to privatize Yellowstone and the other national parks, of course it is not,” he wrote in his email. “A simple conclusion of the study may be for the federal government to allow (oversight) by Wyoming agencies, instead of the federal government agencies. Much like we do on other issues.”