Last week, both Wyoming’s U.S. Congressman Liz Cheney and the new pick for Interior Secretary, Montana Representative Ryan Zinke, both voted yes on a bill that would make it easier for congress to hand over federal lands to states. The amendment strips public lands of their value by allowing Congress to ignore the potential revenue those lands might get from timber, grazing, mining or drilling.
Wyoming Hunters and Anglers Alliance board member Max Ludington says that’s a significant rule change because it allows the government to get around budget technicalities that has blocked public land transfers in the past.
But Ludington said the new rule won’t make it any more affordable for states to take over public lands since they’ll still have all the real costs of managing those lands, like fighting fires, litigating federal laws and other expenses.
“It’s difficult to foresee a situation in which the state is able to account for the management costs through those increased revenues,” Ludington said. “And so they’re going to be facing a losing proposition. It’s fiscally irresponsible to take those on. And they’re going to sell off the choicest lands.”
Ludington said it’s disappointing to see how out of step Cheney is with the interests of Wyoming’s outdoor recreation industry.
Wyoming’s Wilderness Society Representative Dan Smitherman said, the fact that Congressman Zinke voted yes was also a big surprise. In fact, when the Republican Party included federal land transfers in their platform last year, Zinke publicly voiced his opposition.
“In fact, he was a member of the Republican National Committee platform committee and he resigned that position over that plank,” Smitherman said. “He felt it wasn’t appropriate. But then he turns right around and he voted for this amendment.”
The amendment passed with mostly partisan support with only three Republicans voting against it. Since the amendment was a change to a house rule, it doesn’t require approval from the senate or the president. Smitherman says, it’s a done deal.